Today, in Europe alone, about 25,000 people die each year from drug resistant microbial infections, which is almost the same as the number who die from road traffic accidents. A recent report anticipates that antimicrobial resistance will kill 300 million people by 2050 without action.
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat bacterial infections. However, they are also used to prevent infections and without them, invasive surgery and treatments for cancer would not be possible. The development of antimicrobial resistance is expected but overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human health, agriculture and animal health has accelerated its emergence and spread.
Yet, since 2000, only 5 new classes of new antibiotics have been discovered and most of these do not work against gram negative bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
A well-known example of a resistant bacterial infection is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is commonly caught in hospitals and associated deaths in England and Wales rose to a peak of 2000 deaths in 2007. The incidence of MRSA has fallen since then due to a number of measures implemented in hospitals. However, the incidence of infections due to gram negative bacteria is increasing.
There is hope due to the increasing awareness both publicly and politically that antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest risks to modern medicine. In June 2014 the UK public voted for antibiotics to win the 2014 Longitude Prize. This £10 million prize fund will support the development of a rapid, accurate and cost effective diagnostic that will help us use antibiotics more efficiently and so will slow down the rate at which microbes develop resistance. The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, also announced an international commission that will examine the economic issues surrounding antimicrobial resistance.
As resistant bacteria become more common, and our defences against them become less effective, the need for research and development to tackle antimicrobial resistance is becoming crucial.
Current research by large pharmaceutical companies, small and medium enterprises and universities includes:
- rejuvenating old antibiotics as well as developing novel ones
- alternatives to antibiotics such as ‘phage therapy’ which uses small cells known as bacteriophages to infiltrate the bacterial cell and kill it
- understanding the genes and mechanisms that cause resistance in bacteria (for instance, drug resistant bacteria can transfer their genes to non-resistant bacteria through links between bacterial cells)
- developing new diagnostics to detect the bacterial infection to ensure it is treated correctly to minimise the possibility of resistance arising
- developing materials and coatings to prevent the spread of infection in various of settings including hospitals, industry and at home
What we do
We hold scientific meetings and wider community engagement activities focused on the many ways in which chemistry contributes to tackling antimicrobial resistance. These include scientific research meetings, like the International Symposia on Antibacterial Agents: Chemistry and Mechanisms of Action, and events for the public, like our public lecture Antibiotics: past, present and a future? You can read more about the design of new antimicrobials and strategies to tackle antimicrobial resistance in our special collection of research papers, review articles and book chapters.
In November 2013, we responded to a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into antimicrobial resistance. We highlighted the role of chemistry and the need for long-term investment and support for mechanisms to improve collaboration.
We were pleased that the report from the Committee included our view that public–private partnership could be a mechanism for a joint approach between the public and private sectors to pay for antimicrobial research and share the financial risk. You can also read more about the report in our Chemistry World article Call for new models to pay for antibiotics.
Learned Society Partnership on Antimicrobial Resistance
We have joined with the:
to form the Learned Society Partnership on Antimicrobial Resistance.
We aim to bring funders and government together with researchers to foster communication across the antimicrobial resistance research community and support the current and new research community to form collaborations across sectors and disciplines.
We organised a series of workshops to provide a forum to share knowledge, and for all scientists involved to meet, network and exchange ideas. Chemists came together with pharmacologists, biochemists and microbiologists to discuss antimicrobial resistance: environments, evolution and transmission. Based on workshop discussions and delegate feedback, we produced a summary.
Beating the superbugs – avoiding an antibiotic apocalypse
Our public panel debate in 2013, hosted by Dr Michael Mosely, science journalist and TV presenter, explored key issues including:
- identifying the scientific challenges and also solutions that could address these challenges
- initiatives to avoid misuse and encourage stewardship of antibiotic drugs
- ensuring that research and development of new antimicrobials is financially viable
- highlighting the need to tackle this issue on a global scale through global surveillance and monitoring
The event was introduced by Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, and was run to coincide with the annual European Antibiotic Awareness Day.