‘Priority pathogens’ list underscores urgent need for new antibiotics
A list of 12 bacteria families that pose the greatest threat to human health has been published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Designed to guide and promote research of new antibiotics, the “priority pathogens” list forms part of WHO’s effort to address the global spread of antimcrobial resistance.
In particular, the list highlights the threat of gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics. These bacteria have the ability to find new ways to resist treatment and can transfer genetic material to other bacteria, allowing them to also become drug-resistant.
"This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs," says 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.”
The list is split into three categories according to the urgency of the need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.
The critical group contains multi-drug resistant bacteria that constitute a particular threat in nursing homes and hospitals. These include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and various Enterobacteriaceae.
The high and medium-priority lists contain drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases, such as Salmonella and gonorrhoea. Tuberculosis – whose resistance has been growing in recent years – was not included because other programmes are already targeting this.
WHO hopes that the list will spur governments to introduce policies that encourage basic science and advanced R&D. They also hope the list will inform not-for-profit projects such as the WHO/Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), which is participating in development of new antibiotics.
"New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world," says Prof Evelina Tacconelli, head of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Tübingen and a major contributor to the development of the list. "Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care."