WHO lists 12 superbugs threatening human health

A list of the 12 drug-resistant and deadly pathogens posing the greatest threat to human health has been published by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Image of a cell under a microscope

Credit: Scott Chimileski and Robert Kolter, Harvard Medical School

An intricate colony of millions of the single-celled bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It's in the top three of the WHO's priority pathogens list for R&D of new antibiotics.

The list will steer global development of badly needed new antibiotics to treat the resistant bacteria.

It highlights in particular the threat of Gram-negative bacteria – often referred to as superbugs – which are resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Wellcome’s Head of Drug Resistant Infections Tim Jinks said: "This list, developed with input from across our community, is an important tool to guide research in the race against drug-resistant infection. Without effective drugs, doctors cannot treat patients. Already 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infection. Within a generation, without new antibiotics, this could reach 10 million a year."

Wellcome is committed to helping speed up the development of new antibiotics. We're part of a major transatlantic partnership, CARB-X, which will accelerate scientific developments and innovations in this area.

The most critical group on the WHO list includes multidrug-resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters. They can cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

These bacteria have become resistant to a large number of antibiotics, including the best currently available antibiotics for treating multidrug-resistant bacteria (carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins).

The second and third group in the WHO list – high and medium priority categories – include other increasingly drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said: "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."

Read more about the list on the World Health Organization website