Far more money needs to be invested into global drug research to tackle the impending crisis of antimicrobial resistance, reports economist Jim O’Neill in his initial recommendations to the UK Government on 5 February this year. “Drug-resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year by 2050,” warns O’Neill.
Laura Piddock, new vice-chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR) agrees: “The time to make up the gap between funding of chronic disease and AMR is now. Many practices of modern medicine – from chemotherapy to surgery – are only made possible by antibiotics.”
Laura brings with her extensive expertise in the AMR field to make sure JPIAMR’s scientific focus follows the identified strategic route. She is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Birmingham where she runs the Antimicrobials Research Group. She is also the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy Chair in Public Engagement and in this role is the Director of Antibiotic Action. Her current research focuses on understanding mechanisms of antibiotic resistance as a basis for drug discovery.
“The Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance bridges the gap between the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and European AMR strategies. The only way we can solve the problem of antibiotic resistance is to pool resources worldwide and JPIAMR can help do this, “ said Laura.
The JPIAMR has so far focused on developing a Strategic Research Agenda, a blue print to focus worldwide research efforts and a guideline for research funding. Following the recommendations in the agenda will allow future research actions to systematically tackle the problem of AMR. “The Strategic Research Agenda, which was launched in April 2014, has been widely praised by for example Jim O’Neill,” said Laura. “Now we must work to implement the agenda,” she continued.
2014 saw JPIAMR launch its first call for research proposals based on the contribution of national funding agencies. Laura was part of a consortium that applied but was not successful. She said: “When I saw the funded projects I didn’t feel so disappointed to be turned down. They are really excellent. It shows that JPIAMR is attracting the very best.”
The only way to tackle the problem of AMR is to understand resistance, change behaviour and to find new treatments. Laura emphasised that to reach this goal, it is very important that JPIAMR funds research covering all aspects from basic research through to very applied research.
“There really isn’t enough funding at the moment, as the O’Neill report found, and so far, funding has been skew towards either basic or clinical research but not much linking the two,” said Laura. There is also a real need to attract more young researchers as this will stimulate innovation and boost the field further. JPIAMR is planning to launch more calls in 2015 by linking up with the European Commission’s ERA-Net scheme in addition to other JPIAMR calls. Ultimately, the initiative aims to create a truly integrated funding landscape for AMR research.
In addition, JPIAMR has been busy mapping current funding in the EU member states to help prevent replication of research funding during a time when little funding is available. “The mapping will tell us whether countries are funding AMR at an adequate level or if there is a need to re-align national funding policies to include AMR.”
Ultimately, human mismanagement of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to develop resistance to treatment. It is now our responsibility to try to understand how we can return to an era where antibiotics are again the miracle cures they once were.
Laura Piddock is Professor of Microbiology. Since she started her PhD in 1982, she has been at the forefront of antimicrobial research. Laura started her career in a clinical environment and has successfully integrated this background with academic research. She has published 163 original articles in international peer reviewed journals, 47 invited review articles, 21 research letters, 133 conference proceedings and six chapters in academic books.