New treatments alone will not be sufficient to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance

22 January 2020

GMP News

Declining private investment and lack of innovation in the development of new antibiotics are undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

Two new reports reveal a weak pipeline for antibiotic agents. The 60 products in development (50 antibiotics and 10 biologics) bring little benefit over existing treatments and very few target the most critical resistant bacteria (Gram-negative bacteria).

While pre-clinical candidates (those in early-stage testing) are more innovative, it will take years before they reach patients.

“Never has the threat of antimicrobial resistance been more immediate and the need for solutions more urgent,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Numerous initiatives are underway to reduce resistance, but we also need countries and the pharmaceutical industry to step up and contribute with sustainable funding and innovative new medicines.”

Found that research and development for antibiotics is primarily driven by small- or medium-sized enterprises with large pharmaceutical companies continuing to exit the field.

WHO in 2017 published the priority pathogens list, 12 classes of bacteria plus tuberculosis that are posing increasing risk to human health because they are resistant to most existing treatments. The list was developed by a WHO-led group of independent experts to encourage the medical research community to develop innovative treatments for these resistant bacteria.

Of the 50 antibiotics in the pipeline, 32 target WHO priority pathogens but the majority have only limited benefits when compared to existing antibiotics. Two of these are active against the multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria, which are spreading rapidly and require urgent solutions.

Gram-negative bacteria, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli, can cause severe and often deadly infections that pose a particular threat for people with weak or not yet fully developed immune systems, including newborns, ageing populations, people undergoing surgery and cancer treatment.

The report highlights a worrying gap in activity against the highly resistant NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1), with only three antibiotics in the pipeline. NDM-1 makes bacteria resistant to a broad range of antibiotics, including those from the carbapenem family, which today are the last line of defence against antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.



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