Invest in new drugs to combat antibiotic resistance, experts urge

Health officials are sounding the alarm over a lack of new drugs in the pipeline to combat antibiotic resistance, warning the globe could face a "doomsday scenario" if more effort isn't invested in new drug development, NBC News reported March 29. 

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat, with more than 2.8 million people developing a superbug infection in the U.S. every year. Globally, drug resistance is tied to 5 million deaths each year, outnumbering those from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Still, there are only a handful of new antibiotics in development, according to preliminary data from the World Health Organization. There are just 27 new antibiotics for the most critical infections in late stage clinical trials, and of those, the WHO only considers six of them "innovative" enough to overcome antibiotic resistance. 

"Antimicrobial resistance is one of the top global health threats facing humanity," Valeria Gigante, PhD, team lead of the World Health Organization's antimicrobial resistance division, told NBC. "We shouldn't call it a silent pandemic anymore. We should be loud and clear: it is indeed a pandemic." 

For drugmakers, developing new antibiotics can take decades and is costly. There's also a high chance the candidates won't actually gain approval. Yet another barrier is the push to be more sparing with the use of antibiotics to prevent a pathogen developing resistance. But without more investment, WHO officials warn there will be more deaths from once-treatable infections in the future — a "doomsday scenario." 

Many experts outside of the WHO say that's not an exaggeration, supporting the agency's strong language and urgency. To incentivize drugmakers to accelerate antibiotic development, governments should look to funding and economic models, experts told NBC. Lawmakers in the U.S. are also weighing legislation that would pay drugmakers contractually to make new drugs available.

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