In addition, pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to take on the challenge because research and development is expensive, and any new antibiotic they create would have to be used carefully to prevent bacteria from developing resistance to it.
The principal criteria used by the scientists at the World Health Organization for introducing new bacteria to the list of "critical priorities" have to do with how much risk do they represent to human populations across the globe. Gram-negative bacteria and resistant to multiple drugs, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacteriaceae are considered the most serious threat by the World Health Organization, and so are classified as "critical". He also called for continued funding of government-driven antibiotic development efforts-such as those led by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority-and further incentives for private research, including tax credits.
Tuberculosis was not listed because well-funded programmes already exist to develop new antibiotics, said the WHO. They are resistant to clarithromycin, a common drug used to treat ulcers, strep throat, pneumonia and skin infections, among other things. A British report, The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, estimated that globally, 700,000 people die each year from such infections. The six pathogens listed as "high" priority include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and antibiotic-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
"It's not meant to scare people about new 'superbugs, '" WHO's Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of Health Systems and Innovation, told reporters during a press briefing.
The three bacteria classified as "critical" priorities are Acinetobacter baumannii that's resistant to the antibiotic carbapenem, carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and a type of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (also known as CRE). We also need to focus on prevention of infections and just as importantly, on the use of existing antibiotics.
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"New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world", said Evelina Tacconelli, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Tübingen University, who contributed to the development of the list.
Leading the list were bacteria classified as "gram negative" bacteria, or those which have already shown resistance to various drugs.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a similar list, though the CDC's list looked more at bacteria that's hard to treat (such as drug-resistant gonorrhea) but not fatal, whereas the WHO's list examines bacteria that's more likely to be fatal.
Superbugs are seen as a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics. They're classified as critical, high and medium priority. An idea being floated to address this is to change the way companies are compensated by awarding them a cash prize or paying them an upfront fee for each new antibiotic that is developed so that profits are not dependent on product sales. This risk is measured based on the resistance the bacteria is having in that particular moment, as well as its current mortality rate and prevalence demonstrated within communities.
"Without research, everything stops", he said. This is carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing strains that can cause serious infections in the lungs, blood, and urine.