Alarm bells have been ringing all over the world about drug-resistant superbugs, which are expected to pose a huge threat to human health in the coming decades. Years of overuse, misuse, and poor prescribing and purchasing habits has created a serious problem whereby humanity can no longer rely on the old standards that have been used to effectively treat bacterial infections for decades. The United Nations has identified the threat, now the World Health Organization has produced a list of twelve microbes that are seen as major priorities for antibiotic development.
The WHO aims to promote research and development by publishing this list, and they have categorized the bacteria by how urgent the threat has been perceived to be - critical, high, and medium priority.
The biggest problem is seen as the one that affects people already dealing with health issues - those infections that are primarily found in hospital, clinic and nursing home settings. In this group are Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and the family of Enterobacteriaceae which includes Klebsiella, Proteus and the commonly known E. coli. Those bacteria often cause pneumonia and infections of the blood. Bacteria that have become resistant to virtually all antibiotic treatments are in this group. Carbapenems are seen as a last-resort treatment for various bacterial infections that are impervious to typical treatments, and some bacterial strains have gained resistance to those drugs (usually by gaining a piece of genetic material). The next categories include bacteria that are still very dangerous, resulting in illnesses like gonorrhoea and food-borne illness.
"This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs," explained Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation. "Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."
There is global attention on this problem, which is planned to be discussed at a meeting of health experts in Berlin. "We need effective antibiotics for our health systems. We have to take joint action today for a healthier tomorrow. Therefore, we will discuss and bring the attention of the G20 to the fight against antimicrobial resistance. WHO’s first global priority pathogen list is an important new tool to secure and guide research and development related to new antibiotics," commented Mr Hermann Gröhe, the Federal Minister of Health.
The list was created by scientists at the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen, Germany, considering characteristics like how deadly resulting infections are, how treatable they are, how easily they spread, how preventable they are, etc. The list was then reviewed by international experts.
"New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world," said one researchers that helped to curate the list, Professor Evelina Tacconelli, who is Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen. "Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care."