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Rethinking drug research, before it’s too late

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As we face the prospect of living in a ‘post-antibiotic’ era, there is renewed urgency to rethink the way we approach both the research and the funding of drug innovation.

Antibiotic resistance

When it comes to developing new drugs we typically build on the research we’ve done in the past. But in fighting gram-negative bacteria we’ve already tested everything that is likely to work, so we need a new approach.With the rapid increase in multi-drug-resistant (MDR) gram-negative bacteria, it’s clear that our existing tools are no longer fit for purpose. Gram-negative pathogens have two cell walls, not one, and are very different to those of a human cell. Fewer than half of the 39 antibiotics currently in development are effective against these bacteria. So before new drugs can be developed scientists need to go back to the basics and understand the characteristics of molecules that will be able to fight the bacteria.

Going back to basics

This stage of innovation is typically expensive and hard to get funding for. But the work needs to be done. With an issue as huge as antimicrobial resistance, greater collaboration is needed from academic institutes, charities, companies and philanthropists across the world. We’re not talking about simply raising funds, we’re looking at developing a cornerstone of people and organisations who are already working in that space and driving research forward for the benefit of society.

Unlike other fund-based models, this collaborative approach removes competition and allows organisations to work together to define the problem and create insights that can be used much more widely. It’s a model MRC Technology has already used to progress research into dementia, cancer drugs and neurodegenerative disease. The team is hopeful that it could help end the 30-year stalemate in the development of new, effective antibiotics.

Without fresh innovation, we run the risk of returning to an era where common infections and minor injuries have the potential to become killers and regular medical practices, such as hip replacements, chemotherapy and even caesarean sections, become too dangerous to carry out.

Dr David Pardoe, Head of Growth Projects at MRC Technology

(First appeared as part of MediaPlanet’s antibiotic resistance campaign)

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