Intended for healthcare professionals


Few novel antibiotics in the pipeline, WHO warns

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 19 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4339
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. The BMJ

The World Health Organization has reiterated its warning that there is a serious lack of new antibiotics under development to combat the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Only eight of the 51 new antibiotics and biologicals in clinical development to treat antibiotic resistant pathogens are innovative treatments that could add value to the current drugs on offer, a new report from the agency has found.1

Most of the drugs in the clinical pipeline are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and are only short term solutions, the report said. It found that there are few potential treatment options for those antibiotic resistant infections identified by WHO as posing the greatest threat to health, including drug resistant tuberculosis, which kills around 250 000 people each year.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardise progress in modern medicine,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO. “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.”

Last September world leaders pledged to tackle the problem in a declaration signed at the United Nations General Assembly.2 The declaration said that antimicrobial resistance was the “greatest and most urgent global risk” and countries reaffirmed their commitment to developing national action plans to tackle the problem.

In addition to drug resistant tuberculosis WHO has identified 12 classes of priority pathogens—some of them causing common infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections—that are increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics and urgently in need of new treatments.

There is a lack of treatment options for multidrug resistant and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis and Gram negative pathogens, which can cause severe or deadly infections that pose a particular threat in hospitals and nursing homes.

There are also very few oral antibiotics in the pipeline, yet these are essential formulations for treating infections outside hospitals.

To counter this threat, WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative set up the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership.

On 4 September, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the Wellcome Trust pledged more than €56m (£50m; $67m) for this work.

Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Global TB Programme, said: “Research for tuberculosis is seriously underfunded, with only two new antibiotics for treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis having reached the market in over 70 years. If we are to end TB, more than $800m per year is urgently needed to fund research for new anti-TB medicines.”


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription