Scientists from around the world attending the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) conference in Manchester today heard that 2016 marks the year a 'long overdue' scientific fightback against the threat of antibiotic resistance finally gets underway.
Dr Peter Jackson, the project leader behind the AMR Centre, a newly formed public-private organisation which will both conduct and fund research into new drugs and diagnostic advances, told delegates: "For the last decade agencies around the world have been expressing concern about over-use of antibiotics in human and animal health and the dramatically rising rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
"We are moving into a new era. The international health community has stopped just talking about our diminishing supply of effective antibiotics -- and started working on ways to solve this crisis."
Dr Jackson, chair of the steering group behind the AMR Centre, which was set up in March this year and operates from the Alderley Park bio campus in Cheshire, cited the UK Government AMR Review, led by economist Lord O'Neill, as key in galvanising action.
"The O'Neill Review has made it abundantly clear what will happen if we fail to act globally -- some 10 million needless deaths a year by 2050, $100 trillion in lost GDP, and the reversal of decades of advances in medicine. That message about economic impact has struck a chord in Europe, the USA, China and elsewhere. "The AMR Centre is itself part of the UK's response and our mission is to accelerate a new pipeline of treatments and diagnostics. We will do this by providing funding, capability and capacity to support partner organisations, in particular small and medium-sized businesses and research institutes, which have exciting new approaches to AMR."
Dr Jackson told delegates that the AMR Centre will employ 75 scientists by the end of its first full year of operation. It is expected to put five new programs into pre-clinical development in 2016-2017 -- and 20 in total by 2022. Rowena Burns, chief executive of Manchester Science Partnerships, which hosts the UK's largest biotech cluster focused on AMR at its Alderley Park campus, told delegates: "Despite the pending global health crisis around our diminishing supply of antibiotics this area has been hugely under-funded and is in dire need of new commercial models.
"We are now seeing these challenges being talked about and addressed in the form of public-private partnerships such as the new AMR Centre, which we were very pleased to welcome to Alderley Park. But there is a great deal more that needs to happen to incentivise innovation in terms of novel therapies and developing diagnostics, which would help minimise overuse. There is also a massive global problem around the behaviour of both patients and physicians which has taken us down the path of overuse of antibiotics.
"Our Alderley Park bio campus has the leading biotech cluster for AMR within Europe, with a great deal of resource and capability in the shape of the new AMR Centre, Redx Pharma Plc and other biotechs such as Blueberry Therapeutics on site. EOSF has been a great opportunity to share the work these scientists and others are doing on what is a priority area for global health."
Other speakers at the AMR Masterclass, hosted by Manchester Science Partnerships, included Professor Kevin Outterson of Boston University, one of the leading thinkers on AMR in the USA. He called for "more shots on goal" in terms of getting promising research out of universities and a radical change in how antibiotics are sold. Kevin Outterson also called for global collaboration in tackling the issue, observing that "bacteria don't need passports." He also cited examples of best practice in public health around the world, including Sweden, "where they are very careful with infection control."
Dr Neil Murray, chief executive of Redx Pharma Plc, which currently has the largest UK-based program focused on new antibiotics, told delegates: "Scientific discovery in this area is very challenging and there are real commercial barriers. It may sound counter-intuitive given the scale of the problem, but as a whole pharma has struggled to make the business model for antibiotics work -- and so has focused elsewhere. We certainly welcome the arrival of the AMR Centre. It is a manifestation of the new thinking and the hybrid approaches required to bridge what is already a deadly innovation gap." Some 4,500 scientists from more than 90 countries are attending ESOF, Europe's largest gathering of researchers, innovators, policy makers and educators. It's the first time ESOF has been held in the UK and the event brings together the international scientific community to discuss developments and discoveries. The programme includes more than 150 seminars, workshops and debates from leaders in the field -- including Nobel laureates and prominent scientists.
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