The World Health Organization is calling for the urgent development of new antibiotics to fight growing bacterial resistance. For the first time, the U.N. agency has drawn up a list of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.
The list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics; however, one of the scariest so-called super bugs is not on that list, according to Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general for health systems and innovation.
"The bacteria responsible for tuberculosis was not included in this exercise, as there is already consensus that tuberculosis is the most important priority for [research and development] for new antibiotics," she said.
The three categories are tagged as critical, high and medium priority. The critical group includes multidrug-resistant bacteria. These are widespread in hospitals, nursing homes and among patients on ventilators and blood catheters. WHO says the bacteria can cause severe and often deadly infections.
The high- and medium priority categories contain drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhea and food poisoning triggered by salmonella, Kieny says.
"Today, just when resistance to antibiotics is reaching alarming proportions, the pipeline is practically dry," she said. "The problem is clearly one of scientific nature, as new antibiotics are becoming more difficult to discover; but, low market incentive is also an issue. Antibiotics are generally used for the short term, unlike therapies for chronic diseases, which bring in much higher returns on investment."
Kieny says a proposal has been made to establish a $2 billion innovation fund. This would act as an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to kick-start research and development into new antibiotics.
China and Britain already have pledged $72 million to the fund, she says.