Antimicrobial resistance: response of Research Councils UK

22 October 2014

Research Councils UK (RCUK) have released a formal response to the report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on antimicrobial resistance.

The original report, Ensuring access to working antimicrobials, was released in July 2014; it called antimicrobial resistance (AMR) ‘one of the greatest risks to modern medicine faced by this generation’, raising the spectre of increasing danger from untreatable infections including during cancer chemotherapy and following surgical operations. Whilst welcoming the Department of Health’s 2013-2018 UK Five Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, the report stressed the need for ‘immediate and decisive action’ by the UK Government to improve stewardship of current antimicrobials and drive the development of novel ones.

The Research Councils UK Response to the report on access to effective antimicrobials outlines cross-research council activity in the area in the form of the Antimicrobial Resistance Funders Forum (AMRFF). This is said to provide a ‘framework for a more coordinated approach to tackling AMR research’ to maximise the policy impact and to take a strategic view of AMR research in the UK. It has identified four essential themes for tackling AMR to be tackled by research council funded initiatives:

  • Understanding resistant bacteria in context of the host
  • Accelerating therapeutic and diagnostics development
  • Understanding the real world interactions
  • Behaviour within and beyond the health care setting

International collaborative work to tackle AMR is emphasised (including the European Innovative Medicines Initiative and Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance), along with the importance of multidisciplinary research efforts.

The response also addresses some specific recommendations from the Science and Technology Committee report, including:

Better, faster diagnostics for infectious disease

The Research Councils are said to be working closely with the TSB (Innovate UK) on the Precision Medicine Catapult and with NESTA on the Longitude Prize; the importance of advances in next-generation whole genome sequencing are emphasised.

Controlling antibiotic resistance in animals

The ‘One Health’ research theme including collaboration between human and animal researchers is said to be essential in cross-council initiatives.

Ensuring industry and learned society involvement in strategic development

The absence of commercial and learned society representation on the governmental High Level Steering Group (HLSG) deplored in the report is countered with assurances of private-sector involvement in RCUK research and the news that some members of the AMRFF also attend the AMR group formed by bodies such as the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society for Applied Microbiology ‘to ensure a joined-up approach’. Industrial involvement in strategic development is not specifically addressed.

Incentivising a strong pharmaceutical pipeline of new antimicrobial drugs

The importance of the RCUK funded research base for improving understanding of AMR and developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics is emphasised with assurances of close collaboration with the TSB and the pharmaceutical industry, and the assertion that ‘there has never been a better time to address the challenge of discovering new antibiotics’. However, the issue of financial incentives for drug development is not considered.

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