Nesta Discovery Award winners bring the fight to antibiotic resistance

The threat of drug-resistant infections is one of the major issues of our lifetime, with a worst-case scenario being a complete upheaval of modern medicine’s reliance on antibiotics to treat bacterial diseases. The short version: if we don’t come up with a way to fight resistance to antimicrobial drugs, a central pillar to modern society could crumble.

The Longitude Prize is one of the leading initiatives to encourage and coalesce global research around antibiotic resistance. Set up by innovation charity Nesta, it promises a £10 million prize to a team that can develop a transformative, point-of-care diagnostic test for identifying if antibiotics are needed to treat a patient or to specify which antibiotics would be most effective.

Today, Nesta has announced the latest round of winners of its Discovery Awards – providing grants to researchers to help develop projects that will be entered into the overall Longitude Prize.

The 13 organisations, spanning the UK, USA, India, Australia, Belgium, Israel and the Netherlands, will each receive between £10,000 and £25,000 in backing for their research – which ranges from attempts to shrink a hospital microbiology laboratory onto a single microchip, to coming up with new ways to diagnose urinary tract infections.

“Globally, drug resistant infections cause 700,000 deaths a year,” said Daniel Berman, Nesta’s lead on the Longitude Prize. “We need innovative tests that can be used on the spot and in diverse health care settings, so that the decision of whether or not to use antibiotics is no longer based on an educated guess.

Berman commented that today’s Discovery Award winners are being funded to develop solutions that will “take the guesswork out of diagnosing bacterial infections”, noting that the only real way to slow down bacterial resistance is through reduced and more rational use of antibiotics.

Amongst the winners are The Netherlands’ RAPDIF, which is developing methods to improve the diagnosis of febrile diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. Israel’s Prismatix, on the other hand, is coming up with a way to monitor bacterial activity on photonic silicon-based microstructures, while the UK University of Strathclyde’s Biomedical Engineering’s Microplate project is working on a new rapid diagnostic test for antimicrobial susceptibility.

“It is our aim to engineer and test a microchip sized device which very quickly tells a doctor the correct antibiotic to prescribe by rapidly identifying the susceptibility profile of the pathogen allowing prescription of the right drug,” said Dr Damion Corrigan, one of the researchers on the team.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of time currently required to establish antimicrobial susceptibility profiles for bacterial infections, thereby improving antibiotic stewardship. Currently, antibiotics are prescribed speculatively in many cases leading to the emergence of resistance. We would like to envisage a scenario where ultimately all patients are tested and given the appropriate antibiotic for their infection on the same day as their visit to the doctor.”

Another UK team, EDPAL from Bradford and Lincoln, made use of their researchers’ experience in the science of wool. “Since we have extensive research experience in wool science, which is mainly about protein chemistry, we wondered if the same chemistry might be applied to bacterial proteins,” explains EDPAL’s Dr Keith Gerald Edmondson. “We do not have laboratory facilities so we linked up with microbiologists at Lincoln, who do.

“They were convinced that the ideas were worth trying and they carried out some work last year that showed, in principle, that our ideas could be put into practice. We certainly didn’t try to pull-the-wool over their eyes!”

There are just over two years before the final Longitude Prize entry deadline. This second round of Discovery Award funding, enabled by a £250,000 grant from global healthcare company MSD, is intended to give a leg-up to a handful of promising initiatives ahead of that date – but they are far from alone in competing for the overall prize. There are over 240 teams spread across 41 countries currently registered to take part in the Longitude Prize, and you have until 30 September 2019 to submit.

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