Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) currently causes an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year and could cause over 10 million deaths per year by 2050 and is predicted to also create a global economic toll of USD 100 trillion by the middle of the century.
The university experts warn that it is arguably the greatest economic and healthcare challenge facing the world post-Covid and therefore the new Ineos Oxford Institute (IOI) is being set up to create collaborative and cross-disciplinary links across the sciences.
“Oxford played a crucial role in the early development of antibiotics so it is only appropriate that we take the lead in developing a solution to antimicrobial resistance,” said Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, as she hailed the “wonderfully generous gift” from Ineos.
IOI will be based between two sites in Oxford, linking the University’s Department of Chemistry with the Department of Zoology in a new Life & Mind Building, which is currently under construction.
“Innovative collaboration between industry, academia and government is now crucial to fight against AMR,” said Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman of Ineos.
“Ineos in its 22 years has become the largest private company in the UK, delivering large-scale, ambitious technical projects with impactful results. We are excited to partner with one of the world’s leading research universities to accelerate progress in tackling this urgent global challenge,” he said.
Bacterial resistance, caused by overuse and misuse of antibiotics, poses a major threat to global populations. Experts warn that the world is fast running out of effective antibiotics because bacteria evolve to develop resistance to our taken-for-granted treatments.
Without urgent action to prevent common microbes becoming multi-drug resistant, commonly known as “superbugs”, humans could return to a world where taken-for-granted treatments such as chemotherapy and hip replacements could become too risky, childbirth becomes extremely dangerous, and even a basic scratch could kill.
“The growing menace of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is one of the most underreported issues of our time. All modern surgery and cancer treatments rely on the use of effective antibiotics. To lose this precious gift will signal a return to a pre-antibiotic era,” said Surgeon David Sweetnam, Adviser to the Ineos Oxford Institute.
“We now have a very narrow window of opportunity in which to change course and prevent the unthinkable from becoming the inevitable. If there is any positive lesson to be taken from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve clearly seen that the only way out of such infectious disease crises is through brilliant scientific groundwork, laid well in advance,” he said.
The surgeon pointed out that the vaccines which have been created in record time against COVID-19 and which offer light at the end of the tunnel were developed using research conducted long before COVID-19 struck.
“It’s clear that we must be looking right now for new antibiotics with the same urgency as we have been for vaccines. The consequence of continued complacency doesn’t bear thinking about,” he added.
It is natural that the microbes causing illness and infection gradually evolve to evade our treatments, but misuse of antibiotics – for instance overusing them and not finishing a full prescribed course – drastically accelerates this process.
The majority of global antibiotic consumption by volume is used for agriculture, and drug use in animals is contributing significantly to their lessening effectiveness in humans.
Tim Walsh, Professor of Medical Microbiology at Oxford, said: “Just as the discovery of penicillin and subsequent antibiotics transformed modern medicine, the rapid and relentless growth of antimicrobial resistance poses one of the most serious threats to human life worldwide.
“Modern agriculture and healthcare both heavily reliant on antibiotics, which is why it is vital to address this issue as a humanitarian emergency and to bring together national and international expertise across scientific disciplines to develop new drugs and policies to tackle this global problem.”
The new IOI will therefore focus on designing novel antimicrobials just for animals, as well as exploring new human drugs. Alongside its drug discovery work, the institute intends to partner with other global leaders in the field of AMR to raise awareness and promote the responsible use of antimicrobial drugs.
The academic team will contribute to research on the type and extent of drug-resistant microbes across the world, and critically, will seek to attract and train the brightest minds in science to tackle what the experts have dubbed as a silent pandemic.
“The IOI provides us with a wonderful opportunity to link world-class synthetic chemistry and microbiology within a single institute with the aim of enabling breakthrough new treatments in medicine and agriculture,” said Professor Chris Schofield, Head of Organic Chemistry at Oxford.
The donation by Ineos has been described as one of the largest ever given to a UK University and builds on the company’s long commitment to philanthropy in the public health space.