* WHO warns of a possible return to pre-antibiotic days
* US FDA seeking to expedite drug review processes
* FDA scientists working to provide advice to drugmakers (Rewrites first paragraph)
By Manuel Mogato and Esha Dey
MANILA/WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - Misuse of antibiotics has undermined the global fight against infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria and could lead to a return to the days before the drugs were developed, the World Health Organization warned on Thursday.
An estimated 440,000 new cases of tuberculosis resistant to several types of drugs were reported last year in nearly 60 countries, according to the agency.
“At the same time, other age-old diseases are on the rise with the possibility of no cure,” said Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific area. Shin called on WHO’s 193 member-states to commit resources and adopt policies to fight the growing problem of drug resistance.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a global concern not only because it kills, but because it increases health costs and threatens patient care.”
A gene that makes bugs highly resistant to almost all known antibiotics, or “super superbugs,” has been found in bacteria in the water supplies in New Delhi. The gene, called NDM 1, first emerged in India three years ago and has spread across the world.
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a superbug that alone is estimated to kill 19,000 people each year in the United States -- far more than HIV and AIDS.
The WHO used World Health Day on Thursday to launch its “Combat Drug Resistance! No action today, no cure tomorrow” policy.
Separately, the U.S. health regulator said it would expedite certain drug approval processes to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant diseases.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called for development of new vaccines that can reduce the need for additional antibiotics.
There is also a need for rapid diagnostic tests that can detect the nature of infections, the need for specific antibiotics and the future patterns of antibiotic resistance, she said.
“We are facing a situation in which the tried-and-true antibacterial drugs are losing their value and at the same time the pipeline of new drugs to treat those diseases is distressingly devoid of any drugs,” she said.
According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and AstraZeneca Plc are the only two major drugmakers with a strong presence in antibiotic research and development.
Scientists at the U.S. FDA are studying specific areas such as complicated urinary tract infections and serious bacterial infections to advise the drug industry on how to approach new drug research, Hamburg said. The agency expects to complete that work by early 2012.
Apart from tuberculosis, which should have been contained decades ago, the fight against malaria is being hampered by a strain resistant to the frontline drug, artemisinin, WHO said.
Similarly, treatment for gonorrhea was threatened by growing resistance to the last-line treatment and the WHO said hospital-acquired superbugs, resistant to major antibiotics, were becoming increasingly frequent. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila and Esha Dey in Washington; editing by John Mair, Michele Gershberg, Richard Chang and Andre Grenon)