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New era for UK superbug research: 20-year vision and 5-year action plan


New era for UK superbug research: 20-year vision and 5-year action plan

The UK’s new 20-year vision and 5-year National Action Plan (2019-2024) for containing, controlling and mitigating antimicrobial resistance has been announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the World Economic Forum at Davos today.

The plans, which cover health, animals, the environment and the food chain, set out how the UK will continue to make substantial, tangible progress towards preventing the spread and improving treatments for superbugs.

UK Research and Innovation has helped to shape the future ‘One health’ research and innovation priorities, which are a core feature of the vision and 5-year plan.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is now recognised as one of the most serious global threats to human health in the 21st century, with bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics increasingly spreading from one country to the next. Without effective antibiotics, most medical practices, including routine surgery, emergency operations, transplants, and chemotherapy will be less safe and in a post-antibiotic era even minor infections could prove fatal. A 2014 review estimated that by 2050 the global cost of AMR will be up to $100 trillion and could account for up to 10 million extra deaths a year.

Since 2014, the UK has cut the amount of antibiotics it uses by more than seven per cent and sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals dropped by 40%. But the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections have increased by 35% from 2013 to 2017. With the emergence of drug-resistant infections like super-gonorrhoea posing serious threats to health, we need to protect the antibiotics we have by making sure they are used only when needed.

To date, the UKRI cross council AMR initiative has supported 78 interdisciplinary projects at a total commitment of £44m and in recognition of the global dimension of AMR, have committed £41m, to support projects in partnership with members of the Joint Programme Initiative in AMR, and with emerging economies and low and middle-income countries.

Prof Fiona Watt Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC), which leads UKRI’s AMR Cross-Council Initiative, said:

“Antimicrobial Resistance arises from a complex interplay between biological, economic, cultural, environmental, and technical factors. By preventing infections, preserving existing antibiotics and promoting the development of new therapies and interventions, we will reduce the development and impact of AMR.

Interdisciplinary research is crucial for making a step-change in preventing AMR. I am proud of the strategic direction MRC is providing in this area, establishing the UK AMR Funders Forum (AMRFF) and leading the AMR Cross-Council Initiative, with our fellow UKRI councils.” 

To successfully deliver the research agenda of the refreshed strategy and maintain the UK’s global leadership UKRI will help to:

  • Support co-ordinated AMR related research priority areas
  • Continue to influence global research strategies on AMR, ensuring the alignment of UK-funded research, and emphasising the need for research to be useful for front-line teams
  • Develop interdisciplinary networks and capacity to better undertake predictive analysis and inform and develop interventions across all sectors.
  • Continue to develop the scientific capacity needed to support and deliver ongoing high-quality research in infectious disease, prevention and microbiology-related disciplines.

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