Oxford gets £100M to seize a 'breakthrough moment' in fighting superbugs
Close to 70 years after Oxford scientists purified penicillin and confirmed its effect as an antibacterial drug, the university is establishing a new research institute at the forefront of combating antimicrobial resistance.
The Ineos Oxford Institute for AMR Research will initially be powered by a $136 million (£100 million) donation from Ineos, the UK-based chemicals giant founded by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, that also plays a hand in manufacturing medical and pharma products.
“Covid-19 has been like an earthquake,” Timothy Walsh, a veteran AMR researcher who’s taking the academic lead on the microbiology side, said in a video. “So it’s been rapid, sudden, whereas antimicrobial resistance you can’t see it, you can’t feel it, but nonetheless it’s increasing year on year.”
Resistance to existing antibiotics — most of which are decades old and dirt cheap — has been emerging as a top concern for public health officials and researchers worldwide. Even though a handful of biotechs have managed to bring new drugs to the market, increasing awareness of antibiotic stewardship and rigid reimbursement structures could put companies in a Catch-22 where clinicians try to limit their use to the most critical cases, thereby also limiting revenue and often driving the drugmakers into bankruptcy. The result had been an exodus from the field, even though certain Big Pharma players and public-private coalitions have been trying to change that.
Economist Jim O’Neill — who has helped document the dire situation and argued for urgent action in the “arms race against bacteria” — said the collaborative approach “could be the breakthrough moment the global AMR challenge needs.”
Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, suggested that Ineos might help translate the research. In addition to exploring new human drugs, the group is making designing animal-specific antibiotics one of its goals given that agriculture accounts for the majority of global antibiotic consumption.
Chris Schofield, head of organic chemistry at Oxford, will be the academic lead for chemistry.
“The IOI provides us with a wonderful opportunity to link world class synthetic chemistry and microbiology within a single institute with the aim of enabling breakthrough new treatments in medicine and agriculture,” he said in a statement.
Then there’s the misuse of antibiotics — overusing them, not finishing a full prescribed dose — to tackle, with researchers tasked with proposing better management and engaging with policymakers.
Very positive news this morning. Will be interested to see the research agenda of the new institute but sure to be a key new player in the partnerships required in the fight against antibiotic resistance #AMR #Oxford #ineos https://t.co/pucALoFDVT
— Seamus O'Brien 💙 (@obriensea) January 19, 2021
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