The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published the first-ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” that included 12 families of bacteria which pose the greatest threat to human health – because they are resistant to antibiotics.
The list was released to guide and promote research and development of new antibiotics, as part of WHO’s efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.
Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said, “this list is a new tool to ensure research and development responds to urgent public health needs”.
“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”.
In a statement, he said the list highlights in particular the threat of “gram-negative” bacteria that were resistant to multiple antibiotics.
These bacteria had built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and could pass along genetic material that allowed other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well, Kieny said.
Health experts have previously warned that resistance to the drugs that are used to fight infections could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.
If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures – including organ transplantation, caesarean sections, joint replacements and chemotherapy – could become too dangerous to perform.
About 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections and, if no action is taken, it has been estimated that such infections will kill 10m people a year by 2050.
Three bacteria are considered to be of critical priority:
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
- Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing
- Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
Six are considered to be of high priority:
- Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
- Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
- Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
- several species of Campylobacter, fluoroquinolone-resistant
- Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant
Three are deemed to be of medium priority:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
- Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
- several species of Shigella, fluoroquinolone-resistant
Kieny said G20 health experts will meet this week in Berlin to deliberate further.
The list is intended to spur governments to put in place policies that incentivise basic science and advanced research and development by both publicly funded agencies and the private sector investing in new antibiotic discovery.