WHO report warns of the rise in antibiotic resistance, seeks better data

Common bacterial infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, “causing life-threatening bloodstream infections,” a new World Health Organization (WHO) report warns.

Based on “data reported by 87 countries in 2020,” the Global Antimicrobial Resistance and Use Surveillance System (GLASS) report for the first time “provides analyses for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) rates in the context of national testing coverage, AMR trends since 2017, and data on antimicrobial consumption in humans.” Within six years, GLASS “achieved participation from 127 countries with 72% of the global population.”

According to the GLASS data, over 20% of E. coli isolates were resistant to both first-line and second-line treatments.

“Over 60% of Neisseria gonorrhoea isolates, a common sexually transmitted disease, have shown resistance to one of the most used oral antibacterials, ciprofloxacin,” the report adds.

In addition, bloodstream infections due to resistant E. coli and Salmonella spp “increased by at least 15% in 2020 compared to rates in 2017.”

The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointed out, “antimicrobial resistance undermines modern medicine and puts millions of lives at risk.” He stressed that “we must scale up microbiology testing and provide quality-assured data across all countries” to mount an effective public health response to AMR.

The most dangerous bacteria are also increasingly resistant. “High levels (above 50%) of resistance were reported in bacteria frequently causing bloodstream infections in hospitals,” including infections that typically require “last-resort antibiotics,” said WHO.

Six key causes of antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance: over-prescribing, patients not finishing treatment, overuse in agriculture, poor infection control, lack of hygiene and poor sanitation, and lack of new antimicrobials being developed.
Six key causes of antimicrobial resistance (Credit: World Health Organization)

WHO calls for more data and extended antibiotics pipeline

According to the WHO, we require additional research to determine “why AMR increased and to what extent it is related to more hospitalizations and increased antibiotic treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But that could only answer a small segment of the problem since we’re facing an urgent need to develop new antibiotics and antimicrobials in a broken market for antibiotics, “with fewer than 70 antimicrobial programs in the pipeline.”

In the United States, legislation like the Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions To End Up-Surging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act could help address the problem with the antimicrobials market.

As we previously reported, the PASTEUR Act would establish an outcome- and value-based payment model for antimicrobials. The government would pay companies set amounts for critical-need antimicrobials based on a treatment’s value to public health. This model would provide a predictable return for companies, enabling them to continue their innovative work while incentivizing investments to support a more robust R&D pipeline.

Last month, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and more than 150 groups working in health care sent a letter urging congressional leaders to pass the PASTEUR Act before the current legislative session ends on Jan. 3.

“[W]ithout action, AMR is projected to kill 10 million per year by 2050,” they warned.

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