UTIs could soon be life-threatening without new antibiotics
The World Health Organization (WHO) has named which bacteria we most urgently need new antibiotics to fight, as they become increasingly resistant to the ones we’ve already got. Top of the list are gut bacteria such as Escherichia coli – a deadly threat in hospitals, but also the leading cause of urinary tract infections, which affect an estimated 250 million people a year, most of them women.
The WHO’s list is aimed at a G20 meeting in Berlin, Germany, at which the world’s twenty richest countries will discuss how to pay pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics, which are otherwise too unprofitable to invest in. Priorities need to be spelled out, says Nicola Magrini of the WHO, partly because what work is being done on new antibiotics is largely aimed at the bacteria for which it is easiest to find and test new drugs, not those doing the most damage.
Researchers at the WHO and at the University of Tübingen, Germany, pinpointed the most damaging families of drug-resistant bacteria based on criteria such as how often bacteria resist antibiotics, how many they resist, how often they kill, and the numbers of people affected.
The most pressing need is for drugs to kill Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas, and members of the Enterobacteria family that resist the last-resort carbapenem antibiotics. The Enterobacteria include E. coli, which takes a heavy toll in hospitals and nursing homes, where it causes blood and lung infections that are often fatal.