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Development of New Antibiotics Stalls: WHO

By Rodrigo Andrade | Thu, 06/23/2022 - 16:12

The development of new antibiotics is not progressing as expected. In the past five years, only twelve new antibiotics were approved, 10 of those belong to classes that are already resistant to drugs. The UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) warn that the lack of new innovative antibiotics leaves millions vulnerable to microbial resistant infections. 

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) claims thousands of lives every year. It is caused in part by the excess use of antibiotics, which can modify the ecology of the body’s bacterial flora or propel evolutionary changes in microorganisms that confer resistance to antimicrobial drugs. About 700,000 people reportedly die each year from medication resistant tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and staph infections, as reported by MBN.

One of the main obstacles to fight AMR is the complex process to discover new antibacterial treatments. “There is a huge gap in the discovery of antibacterial treatments, and even more so in the discovery of innovative treatments. This poses a serious challenge to overcoming the growing pandemic of antimicrobial resistance and leaves us all increasingly vulnerable to bacterial infections, including the simplest ones,” said Hanah Balkhy, Deputy Director, WHO. 

Other obstacles are the long time it takes for a new drug to be approved, the high cost of developing new treatments and the low percentage of success. At this moment, it takes between 10 and 15 years to get an antibiotic candidate beyond the preclinical phase. Candidates in existing antibiotic classes have a rate of approval of one per 15, while those without preexisting classes have a rate of one per 30. 

WHO highlights the importance of public and private R&D investments to increase and accelerate the offering of antibiotics, especially in low-income regions that are more likely to be affected by AMR.

AMR also represents a health issue in Mexico, where the overuse of antibiotics to fight common infections can potentially increase resistance. Some companies are creating new tools to address this issue. For example, bioMerieux’s PCR Multiplex permits the syndromic diagnosis of viral infections that can not be diagnosed by viral cultures. “bioMérieux PCR panels give an answer readily. They identify with exactitude the microorganism causing the problem, which is difficult to determine”, Suria Gonzales, Infectionist, bioMerieux.

The COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed AMR and overwhelmed health systems around the world. The spread of drug-resistant pathogens was fueled during the COVID-19 outbreak due to excessive, and often ill-advised, use of antimicrobials to treat the disease. A study in the UK, for example, found that of 50,000 patients admitted to a hospital with confirmed or a high likelihood of COVID-19 infection, just 2.3 percent had a clinically significant confirmed bacteria co-infection besides their COVID-19 diagnosis. Conversely, 85 percent of patients had one or more antimicrobials prescribed at some point during their admission, as reported by MBN. 

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Rodrigo Andrade Rodrigo Andrade Junior Journalist & Industry Analyst