Resistance-minimizing strategies for introducing a novel antibiotic for gonorrhea treatment: a mathematical modeling study

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Feb 17:2023.02.14.23285710. doi: 10.1101/2023.02.14.23285710.


Background: Gonorrhea is a highly prevalent sexually transmitted infection and an urgent public health concern due to increasing antibiotic resistance. Only ceftriaxone remains as the recommended treatment in the U.S. The prospect of approval of new anti-gonococcal antibiotics raises the question of how to deploy a new drug to maximize its clinically useful lifespan.

Methods: We used a compartmental model of gonorrhea transmission in the U.S. population of men who have sex with men to compare strategies for introducing a new antibiotic for gonorrhea treatment. The strategies tested included holding the new antibiotic in reserve until the current therapy reached a threshold prevalence of resistance; using either drug, considering immediate and gradual introduction of the new drug; and combination therapy. The primary outcome of interest was the time until 5% prevalence of resistance to both the novel drug and to the current first-line drug (ceftriaxone).

Findings: The reserve strategy was consistently inferior for mitigating antibiotic resistance under the parameter space explored. The reserve strategy was increasingly outperformed by the other strategies as the probability of de novo resistance emergence decreased and as the fitness costs associated with resistance increased. Combination therapy tended to prolong the development of antibiotic resistance and minimize the number of annual gonococcal infections.

Interpretation: Our study argues for rapid introduction of new anti-gonococcal antibiotics, recognizing that the feasibility of each strategy must incorporate cost, safety, and other practical concerns. The analyses should be revisited once robust estimates of key parameters-likelihood of emergence of resistance and fitness costs of resistance for the new antibiotic-are available.

Funding: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Publication types

  • Preprint