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£30m anti-microbial resistance initiative is hailed by Trinity College master Dame Sally Davies

A £30million initiative to develop new tests and treatments that can help tackle the deadly threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been unveiled.

It is feared 10 million a year could die by 2050 as a result of AMR unless it is tackled.

Dame Sally Davies. Picture: Royal Society
Dame Sally Davies. Picture: Royal Society

Now Innovate UK, LifeArc and Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) have team up to create PACE (Pathways to Antimicrobial Clinical Efficacy), which last week launched its first funding call. Up to £10million is now available to support innovators developing new antimicrobials.

The agreement was hailed by Prof Dame Sally Davies, the master of Trinity College, Cambridge and the UK special envoy on antimicrobial resistance, who said: “I have always been clear that antimicrobial resistance is one the most severe global health threats that we face globally.

“Drug-resistant bacterial infections already kill 1.27 million people a year, and experts predict that AMR could kill over 10 million people a year as soon as 2050. I firmly believe that the development of new effective, affordable and equitably accessible antibiotics and rapid diagnostics is not just a medical necessity but a global imperative.”

Dame Sally, who was the UK’s chief medical officer between 2010 and 2019, added:“I am delighted that through PACE, Medicines Discovery Catapult, Life Arc and Innovate UK will give our science community greater ability to break down the technical, financial and regulatory barriers that have prevented the breakthroughs that our modern medical systems rely on.”

The threat has arisen because bacteria and other microbes are evolving to become resistant to treatment, largely because of our overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which have meant there are not enough drugs available to stay ahead of these infections.

Half of all the antibiotics prescribed today were discovered in the 1950s, with only one new class discovered since the 1980s, meaning there is an urgent need to grow a pipeline of new antimicrobial tests and treatments.

PACE is due to apply vital learning from other disease areas such as cancer and Covid-19 to the problem.

George Freeman, minister of state at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “The rise of antibiotic resistance – creating a new generation of pathogens that can resist antimicrobial drugs – is one of the biggest threats to modern medicine, and human health, today. It is a global health timebomb: an invisible pandemic with the potential to leave mankind exposed to a new generation of superbugs we cannot treat with antibiotics.

“A whole range of infections that are easily treatable today, claimed scores of lives before penicillin was isolated in the 1940s, and we risk falling back into that dark age unless we can stay one step ahead in the race against drug resistant microbes.

“That is why this £30million research funding for this work such as this is vital: bringing the brightest minds from industry, academia and the third sector together to tackle one of the great medical challenges of our age. Our life scientists did it in Covid. Now we need to do it again with AMR.”

Dr Ron Daniels, founder and joint CEO, UK Sepsis Trust, said: "Antimicrobial resistance is likely a more immediate existential threat to humankind than climate change – rather than a perceived threat for the future, AMR is harming patients in NHS hospitals today. Without effective antimicrobials, treatment of sepsis will be futile, meaning that 49 million people around the world each year will die of complications of untreatable infection. The UK Sepsis Trust is committed to preventing avoidable harm from sepsis: that's why we are working with and fully support the PACE programme."

Dr Paula Sommer, head of research at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, added: “We urgently need new and novel ways to treat infections that have become resistant to medicines. People with cystic fibrosis can be particularly susceptible to developing serious lung infections that are difficult to treat so we’re very excited that this new initiative – known as PACE – is set to make a significant difference in addressing this much needed area of research.”

Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate UK, said: “Through PACE, we're working to address the serious health challenge of AMR. The collaboration between Innovate UK, LifeArc and Medicines Discovery Catapult represents our united response – a call to bring together researchers, SMEs, and experts all within our world-class capabilities at the Medicines Discovery Catapult.

“By bringing together the innovation ecosystem, offering funding opportunities, and promoting collaboration, PACE aims to reshape the trajectory of AMR. Our goal is to help protect public health and strengthen the UK life sciences sector.”

And Stéphane Maikovsky, interim CEO at LifeArc, said: ““Antimicrobial Resistance is a growing and serious problem for which we need to develop solutions urgently. Not only are millions of lives at risk, but with potential impacts on the cost of healthcare and people's ability to work, it could force even more people into poverty, with low- and middle- income countries most at risk.

“PACE is part of LifeArc's wider commitment to address challenges in global health. It will bring together the brightest and best in the UK life sciences sector to help tackle this rising threat to global health."

Professor Chris Molloy, CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult, said: "Medicines Discovery Catapult reshapes drug discovery for patient benefit. PACE is another great example of a Catapult in action. We bring R&D communities together in active, focused programmes that target high-risk areas of patient need. PACE enables us to surround AMR innovators with the best advice and resources and support them in this vital battle. With our partners and collaborators in PACE, we will build a new pipeline of precision therapeutics and rapid diagnostics that will save lives.”

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