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Brussels, 15 November 2013
EU launches new research projects to combat anti-microbial resistance
Why is research on antimicrobial resistance important?
Antimicrobial agents – such as antibiotics – have dramatically reduced the number of deaths from infectious diseases during the 70 years since their introduction. However, through overuse and misuse, many micro-organisms have become resistant to them. This growing "antimicrobial resistance" (AMR) is estimated to cause each year some 25 000 deaths and over €1.5 billion in healthcare expenses and productivity losses in Europe alone.
The situation is serious because antimicrobials have become an essential tool for modern medicine. Many surgical operations could not be performed without them. Yet, industrial investment in the development of new antibiotics has declined dramatically, and only a few products that could be used to combat resistant infections are in the late-stage of development.
A co-ordinated and large-scale European research effort is therefore required to bring new effective antibiotics or alternative treatments to patients, and to re-engage industry to carry out research and develop new products in this area. Scientific research and innovation are also necessary to inform policy-making on AMR and to develop new diagnostic tools, such as quick tests to identify the causes of infections and the need for antimicrobial treatment. Finally, research on vaccines and other preventive measures offer the prospect of blocking the spread of infections thereby reducing the need for antimicrobials.
What are the 15 new EU research projects on antimicrobial resistance about?
Seven of the new projects aim to develop novel antibiotics, vaccines or alternative treatments for drug-resistant microbial infections. Other projects set out to identify better methods to use currently available antibiotics, study antibiotic resistance within the food chain, or utilise novel nano technology for the delivery of antimicrobial drugs. As well as doing much-needed research in this area, the projects will also boost the European economy by directly supporting the work of 44 innovative small and medium-sized enterprises. A full list of the projects is in a table at the end of this MEMO.
How much has the EU devoted to research in this field?
During the last 16 years, the European Union has invested some €800 million in research and innovation to fight AMR, including the 15 new research projects announced today which the EU supports with more than €90 million.
The rising awareness of the AMR threat is reflected in a six fold increase in the amount being invested, from some €84 million during the EU's 1998-2002 research programme to about €522 million for the 2007-13 period.
Most of the EU investment is used to support collaborative projects i.e. international research and innovation teams involving the most capable players from across Europe and abroad.
In addition, some €100 million of EU funding has been invested alongside contributions from the pharmaceutical industry within the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) public-private partnership, notably through the 'New drugs 4 bad bugs' programme, under which five AMR-related projects have been launched since June 2012.
Has EU AMR-related research had any successes?
EU-funded research has helped to identify promising chemical compounds for future antibiotics; to develop new diagnostic tests; to better understand how microbes and humans interact; to assess antibiotic prescription practices across Europe; and to carry out clinical trials to optimise the use of current antibiotics.
For example, Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche announced plans this month to resume the development of antimicrobial drugs while taking over an experimental drug developed through the EU-funded project NABATIVI by Polyphor AG, a European SME. In other words, EU research investment triggered the development of a novel class of antimicrobial drugs and helped attract a big pharmaceutial company to start again developing antibiotics.
EU-funded researchers in the SONO project have also found a way of using sound waves to apply antibacterial coatings on hospital robes and sheets. The concept has already been proven (and patented) on a lab scale. Once commercialised, the technology should significantly decrease the incidence of potentially life threatening hospital acquired infections.
ERC grantee Craig MacLean at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom is studying ways to slow down the rate of bacterial evolution by recycling drugs rather than just prescribing new ones. In his research, he is combining molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry to examine the ecological and genetic causes of antibiotic resistance.
Under IMI’s New Drugs 4 Bad Bugs programme, the COMBACTE project has established a Europe-wide network of 293 clinical sites with associated laboratories in 34 countries. The project is working to improve clinical trial design, and in 2014 it will start conducting clinical trials with innovative anti-infectious agents developed by the pharmaceutical companies in the project.
LIST OF NEW RESEARCH PROJECTS ON ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE