The World Health Organization’s (WHO) first report on vaccines in development to fight antimicrobial resistant infections highlights the need to accelerate late stage trials, while also maximizing the use of existing vaccines.
Bacterial infections are responsible for 4.95 million deaths per year, of which 1.27 million are directly attributed to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR is caused in part by the excess use of antibiotics, which can modify the ecology of the body’s bacterial flora and propel evolutionary changes in microorganisms that confer resistance to antimicrobial drugs. Vaccines are the primary tools to prevent infections and have the potential to reduce and stop the spread of antimicrobial resistant infections.
However, new antibiotics and vaccines are not being developed at expected rates, warns the WHO. In the past five years, only twelve new antibiotics were approved, and 10 of those belong to classes that are already resistant to drugs. The UN and the WHO warned that the lack of new innovative antibiotics leaves millions vulnerable to microbial resistant infections, as reported by MBN.
“Preventing infections through vaccination reduces the use of antibiotics, which is one of the main drivers of AMR. However, of the six major bacterial pathogens responsible for AMR deaths, only one, pneumococcal disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae), has a vaccine” said Hanan Balkhy, Assistant Director-General for Antimicrobial Resistance, WHO. “Affordable and equitable access to life-saving vaccines, such as pneumococcal vaccines, is urgently needed to reduce the number of deaths and mitigate the increase in AMR.”
WHO’s “Bacterial vaccines in clinical and preclinical development 2021” report highlights that this is a global issue. The process to develop new treatments is not very feasible due to the long time it takes for these medications to be approved and the low efficiency of new treatments. Therefore, the generation of new vaccines to protect against these pathogens is highly unlikely in the short term.
“Disruptive approaches are needed to enrich the pipeline and accelerate vaccine development. Lessons learned from the development of anti-COVID-19 vaccines and mRNA vaccines offer unique opportunities to explore the development of vaccines against bacterial resistance,” said Haileyesus Getahun, Director of the Department of Global AMR Coordination and Partnerships, WHO.
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.