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World is running out of antibiotics, warns WHO

Bacteria appear to be innovating faster than the global health community.

In a new report, the World Health Organization warned the world is running out of antibiotics: There are not enough truly new antibiotics being developed to keep up with the many antibiotic-resistant infections ravaging the human population.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, according to MarketWatch.

“There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria mutate and become immune to a certain antibiotic. The overuse or incorrect use of a drug can lead to pathogens becoming resistant to it.

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Antibiotic resistance has worried public health officials for many years, and the threat has only grown recently. In August 2016, the WHO released new guidelines for treatment of three sexually transmitted infections – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – because the existing antibiotics were becoming less and less effective.

In July, the organization announced drug-resistant gonorrhea was becoming a particularly big problem, warning it’s “only a matter of time” before gonorrhea is resistant to all current antibiotic treatments.

Drug development is falling behind diseases, especially for drug-resistant tuberculosis and other maladies the WHO has flagged as high priority. Out of 51 new products currently being developed for antibiotic-resistant infections, the WHO thinks only eight are actually innovative and add value to the world of treatments.

On top of that, the WHO report said current development efforts could produce only about 10 newly approved drugs in the next five years because drug development is a slow, drawn-out process.

But even any new drugs likely won’t be successful against many existing drug-resistant infections.

According to the WHO, “these potential new treatments will add little to the already existing arsenal” because most of the drugs in development are basically versions of existing antibiotic classes. They will only provide short-term solutions.

The WHO report also singled out drug companies for failing to involve themselves enough in the process, largely because antibiotics are not very profitable. These types of drugs are relatively low-priced, and much of the new antibiotic development is funded at least partly by public or philanthropic research grants, according to the WHO.

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