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MRC announces cross-Council awards worth nearly £10M to tackle antibiotic resistance

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News from: Medical Research Council

Three large collaborative grants, totalling £9.5M, have been announced by the Medical Research Council (MRC) as part of a cross-Council initiative to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The awards together mark one of the biggest investments into AMR since the initiative launched and will use new technology to exploit natural compounds, develop a tool to offer better and faster diagnostics and explore how the body’s own immune system can be boosted to fight infection.

AMR is a significant and growing challenge. The world is facing an increase in the number and type of bacteria resistant to antibiotics alongside stagnation in the development of new antibiotics or viable alternatives. It is clear that an interdisciplinary approach at a global level is needed to tackle the challenge if we are to save millions of lives being lost as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The MRC has been working with the other Research Councils that form Research Councils UK to identify research opportunities that cross disciplines to help tackle the rise in AMR.

The latest round of awards has been funded by the MRC, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Physical Social Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the AMR cross-Council initiative, established in 2014 as part of a strategic and co-ordinated effort to address the growing problem head on.

Dr Jonathan Pearce, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, said: “If the antibiotics that we rely on to protect us after common surgery like caesareans, joint replacements, chemotherapy and transplant surgery, don’t work, it’s going to have a catastrophic effect on our healthcare system. That’s why it’s so important we continue to invest in research into AMR.

“There is undoubtedly an urgent need to develop new antibiotics but tackling the issue of AMR is about much more. We need to be imaginative and look at what alternatives there are to antibiotic use, and to do this successfully we need to work in partnership. These awards are a concrete example of what the MRC in collaboration with the other research councils is doing across a wide range of disciplines to fight AMR.”

Dr Adam Staines, Head of Agriculture and Food Security at BBSRC added: “It is important that we remain cognisant of the interplay between humans, animals and the and the implications this has on the risks associated with resistant bacterial pathogens”

“This multidisciplinary call is an excellent opportunity to invest in fundamental research which also has significant scope to influence antimicrobial usage and alternative strategies for infection management in farmed animals and humans, impacting on the agriculture, food and health systems both in the UK and further afield.”

Project summaries

  • Exploring nature’s silent pharmacy – Dr Andrew Bailey, University of Bristol – £2.2M
    Fungi have proved to be an important source of antibiotics in the past, with the very first antibiotic, penicillin, derived from fungi in 1941. This project will use new technologies to revisit old compounds with the hope of discovering potential benefits previously overlooked. The latest computing methods will allow researchers to sequence the entire genome of a fungus not possible before with traditional drug discovery methods. This could lead to a wide range of undiscovered natural compounds that, if found to be bioactive, could lead to much-needed new types of antibiotics
  • Accelerating development of infection diagnostics for patient management and reduction of antibiotic misuse – Professor Christoph Wälti, University of Leeds – £3.8M
    Rapid diagnostic tools are urgently needed to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics. This project will develop a new tool that can be used by doctors to detect the presence of a bacterial or viral infection quickly before antibiotics are prescribed. The test will also be able to tell which bacterial strain has caused the infection, as different strains require different treatments, and whether the particular type is commonly resistant to antibiotics. This will allow for a much more targeted use of antibiotics, reducing the number of prescriptions and increasing efficacy for patients
  • Optimising innate host defence to combat AMR – Professor David Dockrell, The University of Sheffield – £3.5M
    The human body regularly fights bacteria without any problems. This is because blood cells circulating in our immune system, called macrophages and neutrophils, fight the first signs of infection in the body by recognising and destroying the bacteria. This project seeks to increase our understanding of exactly how these immune cells work so that we can maximise the ability of the cells to not only destroy bacteria but also save healthy tissue. If the researchers can identify what genes within these cells are the most important in killing bacteria, it could lead them to develop medicines that can re-engage and enhance this vital process when they fail


Notes to editors

To request an interview with Dr Jonathan Pearce or any of the researchers awarded funding, please contact the MRC Press Office (see external contact below).

About MRC

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-one MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate. By investing £800M a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.  We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

About ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.


UK Research and Innovation Media Office

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