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New Science Minister announces ‘war cabinet’ to tackle antimicrobial resistance on all fronts

New Science Minister announces ‘war cabinet’ to tackle antimicrobial resistance on all fronts - 17 July 2014. Copyright: iStock
News from: MRC

BBSRC is part of a cross-council initiative backed by eight government bodies and the Wellcome Trust to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on all fronts.

For the first time all seven research councils will collaborate on the ever-growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. The cross-council AMR initiative will coordinate the work of medical researchers, biologists, engineers, vets, economists, social scientists, mathematicians and even designers, in a multi-pronged approach to address all aspects of the multi-faceted problem.

The Medical Research Council, which will lead the initiative, has calculated that in the UK alone £275M has been spent on researching the problem since 2007. Yet, to date, no effective solutions have been found and it has been estimated that current antibiotics will be all but useless within the next two decades. The Science and Technology Committee report on antimicrobials, published last week, stated that collaboration between different areas of research is paramount in tackling AMR.

The problem of AMR extends beyond human health. Animals, particularly livestock, are increasingly being infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Such bacteria are found in varied environments – from fields and rivers to hospitals or the kitchen sink but little is known about how human and animal AMR are related. The initiative will work to identify common characteristics of AMR in both humans and in farm and wild animals in order to find new drugs in a pipeline that has all but dried up.

At the same time, scientists will be investigating how to track the extent of AMR in different environments (the sea, rivers, air, soil and in organisms, as well as in food, homes and hospitals.) Researchers funded by the Natural Environment Research Council have revealed the first finding of an imipenam-resistant E. coli in a UK river, a broad spectrum antibiotic that's often used when other antibiotics don't work. (See below case studies from the seven research councils illustrating the type of work they are doing in this area.)

In his first announcement in the new role, Science Minister Greg Clark said: "This unique collaboration involving all seven research councils will help to drive forward important advances in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. The united strategy announced today will provide a more coordinated approach to research gathering by bringing together leading cross-industry experts against what is one of today's greatest scientific problems."

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: "Researchers have been waging a war on AMR for decades but up until now we've had no war cabinet to coordinate research on all fronts. This is about tackling the problem at every level and in every environment – from labs to livestock, from finding new diagnostic tools to educating professionals and the public. One hundred years ago 25% of all deaths were due to bacterial infection. We cannot return to those days."

The MRC held workshops in 2013 to identify key research priorities. These have been grouped into four separate themes (see below) and two calls for research proposals are now open – the deadline is the 2 September 2014.


AMR case studies from all seven research councils

Funding call themes

For more information about the funding call themes, follow the links below:

About the Antimicrobial Resistance Funders Forum

The Antimicrobial Resistance Funders' Forum (AMRFF) has been established to provide a forum for the sharing of information on activities relating to AMR, and in particular anti-bacterial resistance, by the various member organisations. The Forum provides a framework for a more coordinated approach to tackling AMR research to maximise impact on national and international policies and activities. Membership of the AMRFF includes the Research Councils, Health Departments, Government bodies as well as charities with a direct or indirect interest in AMR and which provide significant R&D budgets in the area.

About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.