Tuberculosis (TB)

WHO report highlights TB as a top priority for research and development of new antibiotics

The dire situation relating to the lack of new antibiotics for drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) and other priority pathogens was highlighted in two reports released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the margins of the the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO while releasing the report at a Joint reception held by WHO and the Stop TB Partnership. “There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

Antimicrobial resistance threatens the prevention and treatment of a wide range of bacterial infections, including tuberculosis (TB). With more than half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) occurring each year, - many of whom die - Mycobacterium tuberculosis remains a priority pathogen for continued research and development (R&D) of new antibiotics. For centuries, TB has had serious public health, economic and social implications. In the last 20 years, MDR-TB has emerged across the world, threatening to undermine the gains made in control of the TB epidemic.

“The combination of growing antimicrobial resistance and a scarce pipeline of medicines have severe implications for the health of populations worldwide. The prioritization of M. tuberculosis in R&D agendas is therefore crucial to alleviate some of the typical bottlenecks associated with the development of new anti-TB medicines. This could go a long way in stimulating more engagement from the pharmaceutical industry and other research institutions to address the global MDR-TB crisis” said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme.

In line with the objectives of the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, the prioritization of pathogens should focus and guide increased investment in research into discovery and development of new antibiotics. “Only two new medicines for treatment of MDR-TB - bedaquiline and delamanid – have reached the market in the last few years, a first time ever that truly new medicines for MDR-TB has been developed” said Dr Karin Weyer, Coordinator of Laboratories, Diagnostics and Drug Resistance at the WHO Global TB Programme. “however, treatment of MDR-TB requires multidrug therapy and completely new regimens, without which people with MDR-TB will continue to need highly toxic, much less effective and costly second-line medicines.”

The two reports are a collaborative effort by the Department of Essential Medicines and the Global TB Programmme at WHO. The reports highlight serious lack of new antibiotics under development to combat the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. “Pharmaceutical companies and researchers must urgently focus on new antibiotics against certain types of extremely serious infections that can kill patients in a matter of days because we have no line of defence,” says Dr Suzanne Hill, Director of the Department of Essential Medicines at WHO.

TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, resulting from persistence inequities in access to high-quality diagnostics, treatment & care services. The threat of drug-resistant TB can overturn the achievements made in controlling TB epidemics in recent times. Highlighting M. tuberculosis as a priority pathogen represents an opportunity to act, foster research and discovery, and confront a disease that continues to affect millions of people.