New collaboration to tackle superbugs

13 October 2017

A new Oxford University collaboration will support understanding and action around one of the world’s biggest health threats, drug-resistant infections.

The Global Burden of Disease AMR (GBD AMR) project will gather and publish data on the impact of superbugs globally. Allowing scientists to, for the first time, map disease and death caused by drug-resistant infections, which will be critical in targeting global efforts.

The collaboration was announced today, at the Wellcome Trust’s international Call to Action conference in Berlin, which supports increased action on tackling drug-resistant infection.

Scientists from the Big Data Institute and the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health both at the University of Oxford, and researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) University of Washington, will work together on the initiative, intended to increase global awareness and drive support for strategies that can reduce superdrugs. Other key contributors include the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has stated that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell “the end of modern medicine” and a “post-antibiotic apocalypse”.

The increasing spread of superbugs, specifically those resistant to antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, is one of the greatest threats to global health. These infections frequently result in longer hospital stays, higher medical costs, and increased mortality. Some estimates predict that 10 million people could die every year from superbugs by 2050 if we do not act now, with common medical procedures such as caesareans and chemotherapy becoming too dangerous to perform.

The message from both the ‘Call to Action’ Conference and the GBD AMR project is that commitment alone is not enough, it must be translated into tangible action sooner rather than later.

Over the next four years, the research will enable the collection and synthesis of one of the largest datasets published on the impact of superbugs worldwide. This data will be used to quantify the burden of AMR in the context of other diseases and causes of death. The research findings will support understanding of trends in AMR and be used to inform treatment guidelines, decision-making and research agendas.

UK Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, Steve Brine, said: ‘This ground-breaking collaboration will enable us to better understand the extent of death and disease that AMR is causing globally and will guide future efforts and allocation of resources around the world.’

Professor Gil McVean, Director of the Big Data Institute, University of Oxford, said: ‘Big Data approaches can play a key role in mapping and understanding the critical and growing problem of drug resistant infection at a global scale. We are excited to be able to bring our expertise in data engineering, analytical innovation and software development to help meet the challenge.’

The partnership between IHME and the University of Oxford, will be supported by a number of donors, including the Fleming Fund, a British government initiative created to improve and support research into drug-resistant infectious diseases through a ‘One Health’ approach.

Associate Professor Direk Limmathurotsakul, Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Bangkok, Thailand and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, University of Oxford, UK, said: ‘AMR is a big and growing problem in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Nonetheless, data is currently scarce. The Oxford Tropical Network has long established international research units in Thailand, Vietnam and Kenya and will be key partners in evaluating the impact of AMR on health in LMICs together with their local partners and policy makers.’

Notes to editors:

About Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division 
The Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school. From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery. A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

  • The Call to Action conference is the first in a series of events to support the work of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group (IACG) to tackle AMR globally. The event takes place in Berlin on the 12 and 13 October. It is co-hosted by the UK government, Government of Thailand, the Ghanaian government, the Wellcome Trust, and United Nations Foundation in partnership with the IACG. 
  • The UK investment in Research, awareness, and development of over £615million includes:
    £369million announced at the 2016 UN General Assembly on international AMR surveillance and research programmes (Fleming Fund, Global AMR Innovation Fund, UK AMR Centre and Research Council investments); 
    £84m additional investment made between 2014 and 2016 - collection of other projects covering AMR research and supporting low and middle income countries to tackle AMR
    £162 million committed since the 2016 UNGA, including £107m on interdisciplinary AMR research, £50,000 to the World Health Organisation to develop guidance for countries and £2.7m on a domestic awareness campaign.
  • The Global Burden of Disease AMR project will be implemented through a partnership between the Big Data Institute and the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, both within the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oxford, and researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) University of Washington. It will combine donations from the UK’s Fleming Fund, Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • The Fleming Fund Grant includes;
    £6.2m over 4 years Global Burden of Disease AMR project to gather and publish data to understand how populations across the world are impacted by premature mortality, disability, and loss of healthy life years caused by AMR, enabling us to map and track the harm that AMR is doing for the very first time.
    £600,000 over 2 years to the South Centre to developing countries to contribute positively in the global response to AMR.