Antibiotic resistance threat: UK government must support UK drug discovery and innovation now

28 January 2013

Thursday's widespread coverage of the growing threat of antibiotic resistance points to the acute urgency of the need for the government to support British drug discovery and healthcare innovation, as well as the underpinning chemical science.

Professor Chris Schofield, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and an organic chemist who works on antibiotics at the University of Oxford, said: "The warning made on Thursday by the government's chief health adviser, must not go unheeded.

"Although antibiotic resistance has always been with us, there is compelling evidence that the scale and likelihood of threat posed by it to the UK has increased dramatically in the last decade or so."

"Following the discovery of penicillin, Britain has been a leader in antibiotic research.  However, since the mid-1980s there has been a substantial decline in antibiotic research both in academia, and of particular importance, in the pharmaceutical sector. The government is doing excellent work in taking forward its Strategy for UK Life Sciences, but I think even more could be done to support the chemical science that forms the backbone of drug discovery and healthcare innovation, especially in the antibiotics field. Investment in this field could really benefit the UK - a genuine economic growth opportunity that will enable us to counter the growing threat of antibiotic resistance."

"Efficient chemistry is central to the invention of useful antibiotics; it is chemists who will synthesise antibiotics working in partnership with biologists, biochemists, pharmacologists and clinicians. Because of the structural complexity of many antibiotic classes, synthetic chemistry has played a central role in their development. One of the triumphs of late 20th century chemistry was the development of highly efficient routes to complex antibiotics, such as the carbapenems." 

"It is also important that the government recognises that the invention of new antibiotics requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Chemists are needed to develop a better understanding of how bacteria work so we can identify new and better ways of controlling them.  An international summit of world-leading experts in life sciences recently highlighted these areas in their Chemistry for Better Health white paper."

"The government needs to make sure that our world-leading knowledge and expertise in chemistry can be fully empowered to explore biological opportunities to tackle major healthcare challenges such as antibiotic resistance.  Britain has a huge opportunity to create new medicines for the NHS that will make a real difference to patients, whilst keeping us at the international forefront of healthcare innovation."

"The efficient development of antibiotics will benefit from closer coordination of academic research, industry, and, in the UK, links to the NHS which I don't think we fully exploit for pharmaceutical research."

"The relative lack of research in antibiotic science, particularly chemistry, raises the need to ensure capacity to continue to train future drug discovery scientists in an environment where the large UK pharmaceutical footprint is diminishing.  Maintaining the UK's leadership in this area will contribute to economic growth in the life science sector."

"We are where we are partly because the return on investment in antibiotic drug development has meant it is an area that pharmaceutical companies have substantially withdrawn from. We need, urgently, an environment that will encourage investment in this area, perhaps in public-private partnerships."

Related Link

Chemistry for Better Health White Paper

Chemistry for Better Health summarises the outcomes of the third annual CS3 in September 2011, which focused on advances in chemistry for modern medicine.

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