New research into antibiotic resistance has been funded - but what does it mean?

The University of Oxford has been given £100 million to launch a new institute that aims to combat the growing issue of resistance to antibiotics.

This £100 million donation is one of the largest of its kind in history.

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The donation comes from chemicals giant Ineos, and will be used to fund antimicrobial research at the institution.

Researchers will seek to develop new drugs for animals and humans, as well as promoting more responsible use of existing antibiotics, following a rise in antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.

It has been estimated that by 2050, up to 10 million deaths each year could be caused due to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs no longer being effective at treating common diseases.

‘We must act now’

Oxford’s vice chancellor Professor Louise Richardson said that immediate action to address the issue was “imperative”, and she warned it would be “cataclysmic” for surgeries if infection could no longer be prevented by antibiotics.

Talking to the Press Association, she said: “I think that the pandemic has shown us just the extraordinary high costs if you ignore a problem that is potentially headed your way.

“We certainly knew that there was high potential for another pandemic, we were reminded of that many times, and yet we were caught unprepared.

“We know that human antibiotics are, with every passing year, becoming fewer and fewer because of the growth of resistance so it’s absolutely imperative that we act, and the impact of being unprepared for the pandemic I think reinforces the importance of acting before it’s too late. And it may seem very costly to do all this research now, but it’s nothing on the cost of failure to act.

“Every time you have surgery, the biggest risk is infection, so you get an antibiotic to prevent that. Imagine if you couldn’t prevent infection, it would be cataclysmic for so many surgeries.”

‘Very generous donation’

Professor Richardson said that the donation to the university was “wonderfully generous”, and she added that it felt “entirely appropriate” that Oxford would be “in the vanguard” of the search for antimicrobial resistance after the institution created penicillin in the last century, which saved millions of lives.

Founder and chairman of Ineos, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, said he is “excited” to partner with the university in order to “accelerate progress in tackling this urgent global challenge”.

The university is planning to have more than 50 postdoctoral research scientists working at the Ineos Oxford Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance over the next five years, alongside a number of PhD students.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

Surgeon David Sweetnam, adviser to the Ineos Oxford Institute, said: “If there is any positive lesson to be taken from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve clearly seen that the only way out of such infectious disease crises is through brilliant scientific groundwork, laid well in advance.

“The vaccines which have been created in record time and which offer light at the end of the tunnel were developed using research conducted long before Covid-19 struck.

“It’s clear that we must be looking right now for new antibiotics with the same urgency as we have been for vaccines. The consequence of continued complacency doesn’t bear thinking about.”