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The challenges of antimicrobial resistance

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The role of the Longitude Prize

As the first year anniversary of the opening of the Longitude Prize falls it is a good time to reflect on the challenges of antimicrobial resistance and the products and services that the prize hopes to stimulate.


Decreasing the inappropriate use of antibiotics

The prize calls for the development of a diagnostic test that will decrease the inappropriate use of antibiotics and for a solution that is accurate, rapid, easy to use, can be scaled up for high volume manufacture and is safe and ideally has an in-built data recording and transmitting capability.  The final requirement is to deliver all these specifications in a product that is affordable not only in the UK but globally.

10 million extra deaths a year

Economist Jim O’Neill was commissioned by the Prime Minister in July 2014 to review and make recommendations on a package of actions that should be agreed internationally to tackle antimicrobial resistance. In his report he states that failure to tackle drug-resistant infections will lead to at least 10 million extra deaths a year and cost the global economy up to $100tn (£64tn) by 2050.

To put the figures in context there are currently 8.2 million deaths a year from cancer and annual global GDP stands at $70tn to $75tn, with the UK figure around $3tn.

The trend towards drug resistant forms of infections can be decreased

By overprescribing antibiotics we are effectively selecting for drug resistant forms of infection and if globally we can decrease their inappropriate use, that is prescribe antibiotics only when they are needed and prescribe the right antibiotic for the infection, then the trend towards drug resistant forms of infections will decrease. Addressing the challenges of antimicrobial resistance, however, is multifactorial and it is recognised that diagnostics alone will not solve the problem.

Soldiers dog tags

World War 2 provoked production on an industrial scale

It is thought provoking that Remembrance Day was this month and that following Alexander Flemings discovery of penicillin in 1928, it was World War 2 that provoked the production on an industrial scale and saved lives as wounded soldiers could be given penicillin long before they could be scheduled for surgery.

In 1943 Sir Winston Churchill was given an antibiotic for his pneumonia and he declared “This admirable ‘M+B’ from which I did not suffer any inconvenience, was used at the earliest moment and after a week’s fever the intruders were repulsed’. M+B stands for May and Baker, which was a British chemical company.

We could return to a pre-antibiotic era

Today we take for granted what appeared to be wonder drugs in the 1940s but there are many who warn that we could return to a pre-antibiotic era where we are unable to treat common infections.

An update on the progress of the Longitude Prize

We are putting up to £5million into the Longitude Prize fund and are supportive of stimulating innovation to address this challenge. The prize assessment panel, of which I am a member, has just completed judgement of the second series of applications. Four applications were assessed in the first round and three in the second. Although there is universal agreement that no-one has crossed the finishing line yet, there is also excitement that we are seeing a variety of technical approaches and different infections addressed and I am certainly looking forward to the next round.


A range of approaches are being suggested

We have seen companies measuring the genetic material of the pathogens, use the metabolism of bacteria to bring about colour changes that can be detected with the naked eye, and look at molecules in the body that occur as a consequence of bacterial infection (host-response to infection). We have seen technologies that would be applicable for use in primary care settings and others that would be positioned in hospitals or clinics; the solutions put forward have considered urinary, respiratory and gastrointestinal tract infections.

My hopes for the Longitude Prize

I wonder what the winning solution will look like, I hope that UK companies rise to the challenge in a globally competitive environment and I hope that the solution will be part of our armour against the threat posed by drug resistant infections.

I hope too that in order to cover multiple disease areas that companies who do not win the prize will find support to deliver their products to the market and a receptive healthcare system to the adoption of their innovations for the benefit of patients today and future generations.

Take a look at an Innovate UK-supported success story leading the global search for new lifesaving antibiotics

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