One of the ways BBSRC seeks input from our research community and other stakeholder groups is through our Research Advisory Panel (RAP). The panel helps with assessing our strategic thinking across the range of our activities and we had our first meeting of the year last week. One of the areas we discussed was anti-microbial resistance (AMR). Of course this has been an issue that has been very much to the fore in the past couple of years since the publication of Dame Sally Davies’s report on the subject and a report last year by RAND showed that the economic burden of AMR globally in the future will place a substantial burden on the world economy. The report concludes that it is this future burden that renders AMR a “challenge of utmost importance”. There is also a UK government 5-year strategy for tackling anti-microbial resistance covering both human and animal AMR which was published in 2013 with the first annual progress report published in December 2014. There is still a need to increase understanding of AMR and its implications among non-scientists. For example an informal, and yes very random, trawl of people I met last year from taxi drivers to friends and family showed that many people still think it is the person that is resistant to the antibiotic rather than the bug! I am pleased to see that Dame Sally will be taking her message about the threat from AMR to the AAAS Annual Meeting in the United States next month, where the Research Councils will also have a strong presence emphasising the importance of global collaboration to tackle this and other major challenges facing us.
BBSRC is the primary UK public investor in basic microbiology research; spend of >£80M per year (>30% of BBSRC’s total research investment). Some of this goes towards funding AMR research, for example generating novel anti-microbials, identifying potential targets for anti-microbials, understanding how resistance occurs and developing alternatives to anti-microbials. BBSRC is the only funder investing in research across human, animal and plant pathogens which enables synergies across species to be explored in AMR and also supports the One Health agenda.
Of course resistance is a problem that is much broader than AMR. The development of resistance to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin in South East Asia could significantly set back efforts to tackle the global burden of malaria and has been the subject of recent studies. These have shown that mutations in a propeller protein Kelch13 (K13) are responsible for resistance and that the spread of resistance in the region is not due to the spread of a single mutation but to many different mutations arising independently. Two papers in the January 25th issue of Science shed more light on the development of this resistance. Straimer et al showed that parasites derived from the Mekong region in Asia engineered with resistance alleles of K13 were better able to survive artemisinin than cultured African-derived parasites. Therefore the genetic background has an important role to play. Mok et al also provided evidence that interactions of other genes with the K13 mutations were important in determining the response to artemisinin. Further work may offer new ways to tackle and track this resistance. Other areas are the resistance of crop pests and pathogens to chemical controls and of human cancers to therapeutic molecules.
So resistance is a big problem – but both individually, and together, funders are working with academia and industry to try and address these issues for example in the MRC-led £20M cross- Research Council call ‘Tackling antimicrobial resistance’.