Antibiotic Awareness Week: Research council scientists collaborate in fight against AMR
13 Nov 2017
Health officials worldwide have repeatedly warned of the proliferation of superbugs and antibiotic resistance, but MRC scientists, their colleagues at fellow UK research councils and organisations abroad are working steadfastly to tackle what’s been called one of the biggest threats to global health.
13 - 19 November marks the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Antibiotic Awareness Week. Since its inception in November 2015, the global health authority uses the annual campaign to remind health officials and the public around the world about the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance – or AMR.
And for good reason: AMR is one of the most serious threats to human health in the 21st century. Bacteria are steadily building resistance to our current arsenal of antibiotics – some have even grown resistant to last-resort options saved to fight multi-drug resistant bacteria.
The consequences could be grave. Antibiotics that once tamed infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile, no longer work. The WHO has pointed to a looming “post-antibiotic” era in which routine surgeries to rudimentary infections could kill people, as current drugs may be useless within two decades.
But there is another side to this doom-and-gloom story. Global scientists are battling against AMR on all fronts, from developing new antibiotics to changing policy in agriculture and farming and educating global citizens about the misuse of antibiotics.
Over the course of decades of work, MRC scientists have pioneered innovations in AMR research from mapping how infections spread, discovering new resistance mechanisms, developing novel vaccines and identifying new antibacterial compounds.
Dr Jonathan Pearce, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, said: “AMR is a global health care issue that the MRC is playing a pivotal role in finding solutions to. We recognise there is a pressing need for new ways to prevent infections, to protect the antibiotics we have and to promote the development of new diagnostics and antibiotics.
"AMR will kill more people than cancer by 2050 worldwide if we don’t find a solution and until recently, no new classes of antibiotics had been discovered for 25 years. But it’s important for global citizens to know, we’re laser-focused on turning this narrative around.”
In 2014, the seven UK research councils, including the MRC, launched a cross-council initiative dedicated to tackling AMR.
Teaming up is a historic move. Led by the MRC, it brings together experts from various specialities in AMR research, fostering information-sharing as they work towards common goals. It spans multiple disciplines grappling with AMR on all fronts from labs to clinics to livestock and the environment.
Each year, the MRC spends approximately £6.5 million on AMR-related research. The cross-council initiative has awarded over £44.5 million to date.
On the global stage, the MRC has forged partnerships beyond UK borders. Since 2012, the MRC has been representing the UK on the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR), which is made up of 26 countries worldwide.
MRC scientists have been very closely involved with JPIAMR research. For example, the MRC led a mapping exercise to quantify the scale and scope of AMR research across JPIAMR countries and the European Union. Ultimately, the investigation led to discovering gaps and areas for growth to guide future AMR research.
The MRC is also working closely with countries, such as India and China and the distinct challenges these nations face in their fight against AMR. The UK-China collaboration found the transmission of a newly identified resistance mechanism for colistin – a last-resort antibiotic – from pigs to humans. That discovery paved the way for the Chinese government banning colistin use in animal production in China.
Dr Pearce added: “AMR is a threat without boundaries. It doesn’t discriminate based on region, economy, population – its reach isn’t limited by borders. This is why the MRC and the UK research councils are removing barriers in research and are addressing the problem on an international scale.
"Exciting research is underway within the MRC, the country and the world. This is a global priority that we’ll keep pushing until it’s resolved.”
Together with our UKRI partners, we are sponsoring a Science Museum exhibition putting the spotlight on antibiotic resistance, running until Spring 2019.
Read more about AMR on the MRC website.