Minor surgeries could become deadly without new antibiotics, WHO warns

20 Sep 2017

Image: BlurryMe/Shutterstock

If new antibiotics are not created in the very near future, thousands of common operations in hospitals could soon be rendered too dangerous to perform, warns WHO.

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) issues a desperate plea for new antibiotics not once, but twice in the space of a few months, you know that things are serious.

The news comes after the UN body released a report entitled Antibacterial agents in clinical development – an analysis of the antibacterial clinical development pipeline, including tuberculosis.

According to the report, most of the drugs currently in the clinical pipeline are just modifications of existing antibiotics that offer only short-term solutions.

In fact, there are very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections identified by WHO as posing the greatest threat to health, including drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), which kills around 250,000 people each year.

The total number of antibiotics and biologicals currently in clinical development amount to 51, to treat the 12 most at-risk conditions for antibiotic resistance, yet only eight actually add value, according to WHO.

Antibiotic resistance chart

12 pathogens that require new antibiotics urgently. Image: WHO

$800m per year needed

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardise progress in modern medicine,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO.

“There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

To put the challenge facing pharmaceutical researchers into perspective, WHO said that over the past 70 years, only two new antibiotics for treatment of drug-resistant TB have reached the market.

Despite recent multinational initiatives such as the €56m Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, WHO said that new drugs will not completely solve the problem, and is encouraging greater procedures for the prevention of infection.

Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme, added: “If we are to end TB, more than $800m per year is urgently needed to fund research for new anti-TB medicines.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic