Jan 18, 2020 - Health

Dwindling antibiotics undermine fight against drug-resistant infections, WHO warns

In this illustration, a pill is surrounded by antibodies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Shrinking investment and a lack of innovation in the development of new antibiotics is "undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections," the World Health Organization warned on Friday, citing two of its new reports.

Why it matters: "Without government intervention, the United Nations estimates that resistant infections could kill 10 million people annually by 2050 and prompt an economic slowdown to rival the global financial crisis of 2008," the New York Times reports.

What's happening: It can take up to 10 years and north of $2 billion to develop a new antibiotic and commercialize it, the Times writes. Large pharmaceutical companies aren't producing as many antibiotics, and of those that are being developed, only a handful target the most dangerous drug-resistant infections.

  • Drug company executives, public health experts and patient advocates are insisting that Washington establish new programs and policies to attract the necessary funding to help struggling antibiotic companies and continue to attract drug company giants.
“Never has the threat of antimicrobial resistance been more immediate and the need for solutions more urgent. Numerous initiatives are underway to reduce resistance, but we also need countries and the pharmaceutical industry to step up and contribute with sustainable funding and innovative new medicines.”
WHO's Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Between the lines: "Unlike drugs that treat chronic conditions and are taken for years, antibiotics save lives, but are taken for just a week or two, diminishing their profitability for drugmakers," the NYT's Andrew Jacobs writes.

The other side: In WHO's report on possible novel therapies, 252 agents in development were identified to target 12 pathogens declared serious threats to humanity, including E. coli, salmonella and the bacteria that can cause gonorrhea.

Yes, but: Among 50 new antibiotics in clinical trials, only two are active against the most worrisome category of bugs, per the Times.

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