The World Health Organization (WHO) has published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens”-a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.

The list was drawn up in a bid to guide and promote research and development of new antibiotics, as part of WHO’s efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

According to the WHO report, the list highlights in particular the threat of gram-negative bacteria that were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

It indicated that the bacteria had built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and could pass along genetic material that allowed other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well.

“This list is a new tool to ensure research and development responds to urgent public health needs,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation.

“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,” she stated.

The WHO list was divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.

The report said the most critical group of all includes; multidrug resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and among patients whose care required devices such as ventilators and blood catheters.

They include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and various Enterobacteriaceae (including Klebsiella, E. coli, Serratia, and Proteus).

It said they could cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

It noted that these bacteria had become resistant to a large number of antibiotics, including carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins—the best available antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.

It said the second and third tiers in the list—the high and medium priority categories—contain other increasingly drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

Mr Hermann Gröhe, Federal Minister of Health, Germany said: “We need effective antibiotics for our health systems. We have to take joint action today for a healthier tomorrow. Therefore, we will discuss and bring the attention of the G20 to the fight against antimicrobial resistance.”

“WHO’s first global priority pathogen list is an important new tool to secure and guide research and development related to new antibiotics,” he added.

The list is intended to spur governments to put in place policies that incentivise basic science and advanced research and development by both publicly funded agencies and the private sector investing in new antibiotic discovery.

The report said tuberculosis—whose resistance to traditional treatment and had been growing in recent years—was not included in the list because it was targeted by other dedicated programmes.

The list was developed in collaboration with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen, Germany, using a multi-criteria decision analysis technique vetted by a group of international experts.

GNA