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New UK initiative has antimicrobial resistance in its sights

Medicines Discovery Catapult

6 min read Partner content

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been identified as one of the top 10 global health threats, posing a risk to public health and the wider economy. Now a new collaboration has been launched that is set to build on the UK’s world-class life sciences base and place the UK at the forefront of global efforts to tackle this urgent health challenge.

When we are unwell our lives may depend upon the availability and effectiveness of antimicrobials.

These are the treatments, including antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, and antiparasitics that we may need throughout our lives. Among other things, they protect preterm babies, fight infections, support chemotherapy, and enable transplants. These drugs have been around for decades, and AMR is growing. The statistics are sobering. At the current rate, by 2050 ten million people could die each year as a result of AMR.  

This makes a world without new antimicrobials a truly terrifying prospect. But those developing treatments are in a constant battle with pathogens that are developing resistance at a pace that outstrips the speed of antimicrobial drug and diagnostic discovery. This means that antimicrobial resistance is threatening our ability to treat common infections, not only in the UK but across the world.  

Now a new collaborative partnership has been launched to support researchers and UK life sciences businesses in tackling the threat to human health posed by AMR. The new partnership, PACE (Pathways to Antimicrobial Clinical Efficacy), brings together Innovate UK, LifeArc, and Medicines Discovery Catapult. The new £30 million initiative will support early-stage innovation– driving the development of new tests and treatments to tackle deadly antimicrobial resistance. Progress through PACE will mean the UK can contribute towards a more robust global pipeline of tests and treatments, cementing its place as a global leader in life sciences, and saving lives.

Julian Sturdy MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics, sees the new PACE initiative as a critical building block for driving future research.

“With the exit of large pharmaceutical companies from the anti-infectives arena, it has never been more important for Government and medical research organisations like Medicines Discovery Catapult, Innovate UK, and LifeArc to help up-and-coming biotech companies take the lead in this space,” he told PoliticsHome. “The creation of this innovation ecosystem will help accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments for AMR by small businesses and innovators—continuing a proud tradition of British excellence in R&D.”

Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate UK shares Sturdy’s view that the new collaborative partnership has the potential to turbocharge research delivering benefits to patients both in the UK and worldwide.

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

Crossbench peer Lord Kakkar is a practicing clinician who has seen at first hand the human cost of AMR. He welcomed the new partnership, explaining that the focus on enabling new collaborations could be potentially transformative in developing new solutions. He regards PACE as an important and timely addition to the UK’s research landscape.  

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest health challenges that humanity faces,” he told PoliticsHome. “This new initiative is an important step in increasing the ability of clinicians, researchers, and industry to collaborate and innovate to address this critical issue.”

Collaboration sits at the very heart of the new initiative. The scale of the challenge posed by AMR is too great for any one organisation or sector to tackle alone. It requires different partners to work together to drive innovation. One of PACE’s primary functions is to bring together a research ecosystem and infrastructure that unlocks the potential of different organisations to come together to address the threat of AMR.MDC image

Stéphane Maikovsky, Interim CEO at LifeArc, believes that enabling connections between different sectors and organisations will accelerate the development of new treatments, delivering significant health and economic benefits.

“PACE is part of LifeArc's wider commitment to address challenges in global health and a response to the challenges we’ve seen the sector facing,” he explained. “It will bring together the brightest and best in the UK life sciences sector, providing researchers with the rounded support they need to give their innovations the best chance of succeeding, helping to tackle this growing global threat.”

For Lord Kakkar, that focus on enabling collaboration is absolutely key to unlocking the ability of the UK life sciences sector to innovate.

“The new funding to support research is clearly important, but just as valuable will be the practical support and infrastructure for cross-sector partnerships,” he explained to PoliticsHome. “These carry the potential to drive innovation from the nation’s world-class life sciences research base delivering health, economic, and social benefits on a global scale.”

The aim is that a combination of targeted funding support and help to build new partnerships will enable a pipeline of new treatments to be developed. But the challenges are substantial. It currently takes 10-15 years and over $1 billion to develop a new antibiotic. With only one new class of the drug discovered since the 1980s.

PACE has been established as a direct response to these challenges. The aim is to establish a research ecosystem that understands and finds solutions to the technical, regulatory, and financial barriers that are slowing progress. It will support researchers as they race to discover and develop treatments fast enough to stay ahead of the growing number of multidrug-resistant infections.

Professor Chris Molloy, CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult, believes that the initiative is a step change for the UK life sciences sector, providing valuable wraparound support for innovators seeking to develop new approaches.

“PACE enables us to surround AMR innovators with the best advice and resources and support them in this vital battle,” he told PoliticsHome. “With our partners and collaborators in PACE, we will build a new pipeline of precision therapeutics and rapid diagnostics that will save lives.”

Chair of the Science, Innovation, and Technology Committee Greg Clark MP believes that the new partnership is a timely development that could accelerate research into this critical issue.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a threat that should concern the whole world,” he told PoliticsHome. “It is essential that the efforts of researchers, clinicians, and businesses should be combined to maximise the impact of discoveries. This initiative is an important vehicle to do so.”

The challenges PACE aims to address are substantial but so is the prize on offer. If researchers are supported, it could lead to life-saving treatments for patients across the UK and beyond.

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