Lack of innovation set to undermine antibiotic performance and health gains: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said that the development of new antibacterial treatments is inadequate to address the mounting threat of antibiotic resistance. According to the global health agency’s press statement, The 2021 report describes the antibacterial clinical and preclinical pipeline as stagnant and far from meeting global needs. Since 2017 only 12 antibiotics have been approved, 10 of which belong to existing classes with established mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the WHO said.

“There is a major gap in the discovery of antibacterial treatments, and more so in the discovery of innovative treatments. This presents a serious challenge to overcoming the escalating pandemic of antimicrobial resistance and leaves every one of us increasingly vulnerable to bacterial infections including the simplest infections,” said Dr Hanan Balkhy, WHO Assistant Director-General on AMR.

According to WHO annual analyses, in 2021 there were only 27 new antibiotics in clinical development against priority pathogens, down from 31 products in 2017. In the preclinical stage – before clinical trials can start – the number of products has remained relatively constant over the last 3 years.

The report reveals that of the 77 anti-bacterial agents in clinical development, 45 are ‘traditional’ direct-acting small molecules and 32 are ‘non-traditional’ agents.

Moreover, of the 27 antibiotics in the clinical pipeline that address priority pathogens, only six fulfil at least one of WHO’s criteria for innovation. The lack of innovation rapidly undermines the effectiveness of the limited number of new antibiotics that reach the market. On average resistance is reported to most new agents 2-3 years post market entry, the WHO said.

“Time is running out to get ahead of antimicrobial resistance, the pace and success of innovation is far below what we need to secure the gains of modern medicine against age-old but devastating conditions like neonatal sepsis,” said Dr. Haileyesus Getahun, WHO Director of AMR Global Coordination.  The global health agency also said that around 30 percent of newborns with sepsis die due to bacterial infections resistant to first-line antibiotics.

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