Research into antibiotic-resistant pathogens sees increase since 2017


Research into antibiotic-resistant priority pathogens has boomed in the five years since the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a list of 12 families of bacteria that desperately need new antibiotics. 

Data from Elseveir’s Scopus database show that since 2017, 227,808 papers have been published on the 12 pathogens. The WHO released a list of bacteria for which new antibiotics were urgently needed back in 2017. It was intended to highlight the threat of antimicrobial resistance and ensure research was prioritised into the right areas.

Divided into three categories of urgency, the list includes bacteria which have become resistant to large numbers of antibiotics, such as carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins. Which treat multi-drug resistant bacteria, and other bacteria such as those that cause gonorrhoea and salmonella.  

The WHO launched the list to encourage governments to put in place policies that incentivise research and development into new antibiotic discovery. 

The most critical pathogen on the WHO’s list, Acinetobacter baumannii (carbapenem-resistant), which can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), blood infections and pneumonia, saw the biggest jump in research. In 2021, there were 2,450 papers published in 2021 on the pathogen, compared to 1,348 in 2017. Across the five-year period, there was a total of 11,175 paper published on the pathogen. 

Staphylococcus aureus (methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant) which is a leading cause of skin and tissue infections, saw the most amount of research documents published within that time period.  

Other notable points from the research show that the US, China, India, Iran and the UK are leading research into many areas of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The only family of bacteria to see a decline in research momentum was Shigella spp. (fluoroquinolone-resistant), with 98 papers published in 2021 compared to 100 in 2017. 

The data holds promise for the development of new antibiotics. This is particularly important given the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the fact that the last novel class of antibiotics to make it to market was discovered in 1987.1 

Speaking about the research Thibault Géoui, Senior Director, Discovery Biology and Predictive Risk Management,  Elsevier said: “AMR is an urgent threat to public health. It’s encouraging that the WHO’s list has achieved its goal of ramping up research efforts for these threats, but scientists could now face the barrier of too much data to make it actionable. In tandem with new knowledge being published, we need new approaches to ensure that scientists can apply it to their research. We’ve seen how technologies like AI and machine learning have contributed to considerable breakthroughs during the Covid-19 pandemic. To make the same great strides tackling AMR, we must arm researchers with the tools to better manage data and accelerate the discovery of new antimicrobials.” 



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