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UK and China team up on superbug research

The Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) are joining forces with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) to establish a joint fund of £9 million to support research on Antimicrobial Resistance, the Minister of Life Sciences George Freeman announced yesterday.

The UK contribution (£4.5million) will be channelled through the Newton Fund, an initiative launched in April 2014 intended to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and emerging knowledge economies. The Chinese government will be providing matched funding to support internationally competitive and innovative collaborative projects between researchers from China and the UK.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a huge and complex problem for healthcare and agriculture. Antibiotic overuse and misuse – in agriculture and human medicine – has led to a growing number of bacteria in humans, animals and the environment that are resistant to them. Drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide - more than currently die from cancer – and cost the global economy up to  $100 trillion (£64 trillion) by 2050, unless action is taken. In China, by 2050 as many as 1 million people a year could die because of AMR. The cumulative economic cost would be $20 trillion -- equivalent to two years of current Chinese output.

A workshop led by the funding agencies is planned 24-26 November 2015 in Shanghai, China, to further understanding of the antibacterial resistance research landscape within the two countries and to explore four core themes that will provide the backdrop of the fund:

  1. Understanding the development of resistance, the epidemiology, and the transmission dynamics of antibacterial resistance within and between species.
  2. Developing antibiotics and alternative approaches to treat and prevent resistant bacteria, and understanding the mechanisms of action and the use of antibiotics and alternative therapies currently in practise for both humans and animals. This would also include business models, economic and social/behavioural issues around treatment development and use.
  3. Understanding behaviours in order to reduce the development, emergence and spread of antibacterial resistance within and beyond human and animal healthcare settings (this would include antibiotic prescribing but also broader public health approaches such as in hygiene and infection control practises in both human and animal settings. It would factor in barriers to behaviour change such as organisational and cultural norms, and financial incentives to prescribe drugs).
  4. What are the functions of formal and informal healthcare and veterinary systems and sources of health advice? What are their interrelationships? How can 'formal' systems draw on local, informal practices? Is it possible to provide universal access to appropriately regulated therapies?  What is the supply chain for AM? Can the supply chain be mapped? What are the global and local incentives for supply and demand of antibacterials?

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said:

“Antimicrobial Resistance is a major threat to millions of lives around the world. This £9 million joint investment will help leading scientists in the UK and China share expertise and innovations to develop new treatments that could help eradicate this threat to global public health.”

Professor Lu Rongkai, Deputy Director General of the Bureau of International Cooperation, NSFC, said:

“The increasing threat posed by Antimicrobial Resistance is an international issue that requires much deeper understanding, which will only be achieved through an interdisciplinary approach. As such, this is a key area to be supported by NSFC’s on-going collaboration with the Research Councils. It is essential that China and the UK work together to tackle this complex, global challenge”

Dr Mark Palmer MRC Director of International Strategy said:

“We know diseases don’t recognise international borders and that addressing health problems around the world demands a global response. This exciting partnership between leading scientists in China and the UK is a key part of our international effort to pool expertise and resources and deliver research that will make a real difference to global health.”

The Newton Fund is a initiative which enables the UK to use its strength in research and innovation to promote the economic development and social welfare of 15 partner countries. The Fund will help countries that are rapidly improving their own scientific capability and will help to unlock further opportunities for science and innovation collaboration.

The Fund forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). ODA funded activity focuses on outcomes that promote the long-term sustainable growth of countries on the OECD Development Assistance Committee list. Newton Fund countries represent a sub-set of this list.

The Newton Fund requires that the funding be awarded in a manner that fits withOfficial Development Assistance (ODA) guidelines (external PDF).


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