Informing BBSRC’s future AMR research strategy

Multidrug resistant bacteria inside a biofilm

As part of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, we’re shining a light on the findings from BBSRC’s evaluation of investments in antimicrobial resistance research.

It seems fitting that the theme for World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) 2022 is ‘preventing antimicrobial resistance together’. After all, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a significant global threat of far-reaching proportions and addressing this challenge requires a collaborative approach.

Throughout 2022, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has been working with a panel of experts to carry out an independent evaluation of our investments in this particular field of research.

Those experts comprise a mixture of people drawn from the BBSRC community, industry and specialists with expertise of particular relevance to AMR research.

AMR occurs when organisms that cause infection evolve ways to survive treatment. It is estimated that drug-resistant infections contributed to nearly 5 million deaths in 2019 alone.

That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) promotes research and development as one of their key priorities and supports WAAW.

In celebration of WAAW 2021, I wrote a blog post that showcased some of the vital investments BBSRC has made to help to address this major global health challenge.

This year, I’m delighted to share more insights with you that are helping to shape BBSRC’s AMR strategy for the future.

A critical contribution

Bioscience research has the potential to make a critical contribution in tackling AMR.

That’s why in 2014, BBSRC launched its dedicated AMR strategy. It’s also the reason BBSRC invests approximately £30 million per year in research relating to AMR.

As part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), BBSRC has also supported further collaborative investments with other research councils, such as the tackling AMR cross-council initiative and the joint programming initiative on AMR.

BBSRC’s AMR strategy aims to support both the wide range of research aimed at combatting AMR and research that underpins the development of strategies to mitigate its effects. This, for example, includes supporting the development of novel alternatives to antimicrobials.

Assessing BBSRC’s investments in AMR

BBSRC’s 2022 evaluation took a comprehensive look at the investments, outputs, outcomes and impacts arising from our AMR research portfolio. It drew upon evidence from:

  • grant investments data
  • annual outcomes data collected through Researchfish
  • a survey completed by 62 grant holders

The evidence was presented to a panel who used their expertise to assess the research quality, economic and societal impact. The panel also considered how BBSRC could improve its future AMR research strategy.

It was fascinating to witness the wealth of knowledge that our independent AMR panellists drew upon and their consideration of the wider research and innovation landscape context as they came to their findings.

Expert key findings

BBSRC’s expert review panel drew 5 key conclusions from the independent evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of BBSRC’s investments in AMR research:

  • internationally-leading research: BBSRC’s investments in AMR research have supported high-quality research that was deemed internationally-leading. Our supported research has contributed to a variety of discoveries, producing new knowledge with the potential to underpin future advances in addressing the challenges associated with AMR
  • potential to deliver wider economic and societal impact: there was evidence of emerging economic and societal impact arising from the BBSRC AMR portfolio. This impact covers the breadth of BBSRC’s research priority in AMR. It was highlighted, however, that there are opportunities to further maximise the impact of BBSRC’s research investments and improve the overall level of translation within the portfolio
  • good collaboration and partnership working: the level of collaboration across the AMR portfolio is deemed to be good. The level of academic collaboration was also considered a real strength. There is scope for further engagement between BBSRC-supported researchers and non-academic stakeholders such as industry, policymakers and end-users or practitioners. International partnerships have provided significant added value to BBSRC AMR research. As a major funder of AMR research in the UK, BBSRC has an important role in fostering a vibrant and effective AMR community
  • supports the wider UK AMR research and innovation landscape: the balance and coverage of BBSRC’s AMR portfolio was considered very good, with BBSRC making a distinctive contribution to the wider UK AMR research and innovation landscape. Further opportunities were identified, including:
    • supporting the development pipeline for new antimicrobial agents
    • use of antimicrobial agents in the preservation of food and other products
    • diagnostics to detect emerging AMR in plants and animals
    • addressing the changing AMR landscape in response to climate change
  • strengthen support for AMR research and innovation: there are opportunities for BBSRC to build upon its effective support for AMR research to ensure that the UK can realise the ambition set out in the government’s 20-year vision of tackling AMR. Opportunities include working more closely with other funders, including other constituent components of UKRI and with industry, to ensure the translation of BBSRC-funded AMR research into wider impacts and benefits

Integrated evidence base

Drawing on a robust analysis of the AMR portfolio, which includes data-driven insights from our research investments and outcomes data, together with further insights from the survey responses, not to mention the rich experience brought to this evaluation by our expert panel, we have some pretty sound advice to inform our future AMR strategy.

And with ‘tackling infections’ being a key strand within the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027 this topic remains a significant priority.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to tackling this global health issue. Collectively, we will need to draw on the efforts of policymakers, industry and clinicians if we want to see profound, long-term improvement.

But one thing is certain. If we’re to overcome the challenges posed by AMR, we’ll need a unified approach that draws on cutting edge research and innovation.

Top image:  Credit: Dr_Microbe, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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