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WHO publishes list of 12 "priority pathogens"

February 28, 2017

The list highlights the threat of gram-negative bacteria that have built-in abilities to resist treatment and remain resistant to most antibiotics. The WHO doesn't think authorities are paying enough attention to them.

Klebsiella pneumoniae
Image: picture alliance/chromorange/Media for Medical

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a list of 12 families of bacteria that "pose the greatest threat to human health."

In the report released on Monday, the international body laid out a number of antibiotic-resistant "priority pathogens", ranking them in order of severity to the world from "critical" to "medium."

The announcement's primary goal is to incentivize drug companies that prioritize other diseases and conditions in search of profit, as well as breathe new life in to the WHO/Drugs for Neglected Diseases (DNDi) initiative and other not-for-profit development for antibiotics.

"This list is a new tool to ensure research and development (R&D) responds to urgent public health needs," said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO. "Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."

World Health Organization (WHO) - Marie Paule Kieny
Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO, Dr Marie-Paule KienyImage: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The report comes just days before G20 health experts meet in Berlin, where they plan to bring attention to the fight against antimicrobial resistance. "We need effective antibiotics for our health systems. We have to take joint action today for a healthier tomorrow," said German Federal Minister of Health, Hermann Gröhe. "WHO's first global priority pathogen list is an important new tool to secure and guide research and development related to new antibiotics."

The 12 pathogens were picked by WHO whilst in Collaboration with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen. The criteria for ranking and choosing the strains of bacteria were as follows: 

  • how deadly the infections they cause are
  • whether their treatment requires long hospital stays
  • how frequently they are resistant to existing antibiotics when people in communities catch them
  • how easily they spread between animals, from animals to humans, and from person to person
  • whether they can be prevented 
  • how many treatment options remain
  • whether new antibiotics to treat them are already in the R&D pipeline

"New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world," said Professor Evelina Tacconelli, head of the team at the University of Tübingen. "Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care."

WHO priority pathogens list for R&D of new antibiotics

Priority 1: CRITICAL

  • Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
  • Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing

Priority 2: HIGH

  • Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
  • Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
  • Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
  • Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
  • Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant

Priority 3: MEDIUM

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
  • Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
  • Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant

sb/crl (Reuters, AFPE)