19 January 2021
A new state of the art institute for antimicrobial research is to open at Oxford University thanks to a £100 million donation from Ineos.
Ineos, one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, and the University of Oxford are launching a new world-leading institute to combat the growing global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which currently causes an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year- and could cause over 10m deaths per year by 2050. Predicted to also create a global economic toll of $100 trillion by mid-century, it is arguably the greatest economic and healthcare challenge facing the world post-Covid.
It is bacterial resistance, caused by overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which arguably poses the broadest threat to global populations. The world is fast running out of effective antibiotics as bacteria evolve to develop resistance to our taken-for-granted treatments. Without urgent collaborative action to prevent common microbes becoming multi-drug resistant (commonly known as ‘superbugs’), we 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 rapid progression of antibacterial resistance is a natural process, exacerbated by significant overuse and misuse of antibiotics not only in human populations but especially in agriculture. Meanwhile, the field of new drug discovery has attracted insufficient scientific interest and funding in recent decades meaning no new antibiotics have been successfully developed since the 1980s.
The new Ineos Oxford Institute will benefit from the internationally outstanding facilities and expertise of Oxford University, which played the key role in the origin of antibiotics following Fleming and Oxford’s discovery and development of penicillin in the last century. The IOI will create collaborative and cross-disciplinary links across the sciences, and will be based between two sites in Oxford, linking the University’s Department of Chemistry with the new Life & Mind Building, which is currently under construction.
Prolonging the benefits of antibiotics the world has known since the 1940s requires both urgent new drug development, and better management of the existing drugs we have. 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. The Ineos Oxford Institute for AMR Research (IOI) will therefore focus on designing novel antimicrobials just for animals, as well as exploring new human drugs.
Alongside its drug discovery work, the IOI intends to partner with other global leaders in the field of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to raise awareness and promote 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 this ‘silent pandemic’.
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “This is a wonderfully generous gift for which we are very grateful. It is another example of a powerful partnership between public and private institutions to address global problems. 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.”
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman of Ineos said: “Innovative collaboration between industry, academia and government is now crucial to fight against AMR. 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.”
Surgeon David Sweetnam, Adviser to the Ineos Oxford Institute, said: “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. 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. The vaccines which have been created in record time 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.”
Lord O’Neill of Gatley, the economist who led the Cameron government’s game-changing report on AMR in 2016, and co-authored the book Superbugs: An Arms Race against Bacteria, said: “The combination of Ineos' success in the chemicals industry tied with the great minds of Oxford University and collaborating scientists is extremely promising. This new Institute, applying a model of reinvesting profit to drive further progress in the field, could be the breakthrough moment the global AMR challenge needs.”
The donation by Ineos is 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. Ineos has already funded initiatives such as The Daily Mile, which aims to get the world’s children active every day, to tackle obesity and improve health and wellbeing.
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Ineos is the world’s third largest chemical company. It has a turnover of $61bn and employs 26,000 people across 36 businesses, operating 194 sites in 29 countries throughout the world.
Ineos products make a significant contribution to saving life, improving health and enhancing standards of living for people around the world. Its businesses produce the raw materials that are essential in the manufacture of many goods: from paints to plastics, textiles to technology, medicines to mobile phones - chemicals manufactured by Ineos enhance almost every aspect of modern life. Its facilities provide the raw materials and products that meet society’s needs. Its scientific innovations are also helping in the move towards a lower carbon economy. And it is also playing a vital role in everything from reducing plastic waste to creating a more circular economy.
Ineos products play a vital role in medical and pharmaceutical sectors, supplying over 300 products, many of which are EU/US Pharmacopoeia and US FDA approved. Ineos directly responded to the Covid-19 pandemic this March by building 7 new production facilities in the UK, France, Germany and the United States to produce hand sanitizer with 75% ethanol as recommended by The World Health Organisation. Each facility has been supplying 1 million bottles per month for free to hospitals and frontline healthcare services across Europe and the USA during the pandemic peak, and will shortly be making the bottles available for retail to the general public.
Ineos is perhaps best well known at present for its involvement in the world of international sport: it is backing Sir Ben Ainslie and INEOS Team UK’s current bid to bring home the 36th Americas Cup, alongside backing The Grenadiers, Britain’s Tour de France winning cycle team, owns a 1/3rd stake in the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, and also owns football clubs OGC Nice and Lausanne Sport.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe (Ineos Founder and Chairman)
Sir Jim Ratcliffe was knighted in 2018 for services to business and investment. He is the founder and Chairman of Ineos. His company employs 26,000 people across 194 sites in 29 countries, and is among the 50 largest business in the world with sales of $61bn.
Sir Jim has funded the Ineos Oxford Institute with Ineos co-founders Andy Currie and John Reece. The trio have funded several initiatives in public health to date, such as backing childrens’ running programmes GO Run for Fun and The Daily Mile, funding a new wing at the UK’s Defence and Military Rehabilitation Centre, funding a childrens’ A&E at Southampton General Hospital and donating critical supplies of Ineos hand sanitizer to the front lines of the Covid pandemic.
David Sweetnam (IOI Lead Advisor)
David Sweetnam comes from a family of surgeons, physicians and nurses, and he worked for over 30 years in the NHS as an Orthopaedic and Trauma surgeon. Appointed in 1998 as a Consultant at one of London’s major teaching hospitals, including ten years as Head of Department, he has worked closely as a surgeon for the armed forces as well as an examiner for the Royal Colleges and Chairman of the Newman Foundation Charity.
His experience as a surgeon has driven him to recognise the need for urgent action against AMR, not least because all modern surgery is premised on the use of effective antibiotics. His family history of surgical practice over three generations has given him a unique perspective regarding the alarming reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics since the inception of The NHS in 1948. The menace of resistant infections from ‘superbugs’ increases year on year and will only get worse if left unchecked.
It was through his peripheral role as surgical advisor to the Ineos sports portfolio that he first shared his insights on the urgency of acting on the AMR ‘silent pandemic’ with the Ineos board, which has ultimately led to the founding of the Ineos Oxford Institute for Antimicrobial Research.
The University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the fifth year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation. Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.
Oxford University’s Medical Sciences 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 life sciences, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school. It has one of the largest clinical study 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.
Professor Christopher Schofield
Chris Schofield is Head of Organic Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is a professor of Organic Chemistry and a Fellow of Hertford College.
He has researched in antibiotic mode of action, biosynthesis and resistance since the start of his career in Oxford. His research group aims to contribute to a chemical understanding of biological systems, where possible of medicinal or agricultural importance. His group has pioneered work on metal-using enzymes that are involved in antibiotic biosynthesis and resistance as well as in human physiology, in the latter case including in the hypoxic response. His work has opened up new therapeutic possibilities for the treatment of bacterial infections and diseases including anaemia. His work is highly collaborative as demonstrated by his work with the Innovative Medicines Initiative to combat resistance to the penicillin family antibiotics (ENABLE project).
Professor Chris Schofield, Head of Organic Chemistry at Oxford, says: “The IOI provides us with a wonderful opportunity to link word class synthetic chemistry and microbiology within a single institute with the aim of enabling breakthrough new treatments in medicine and agriculture. Given our historic track record in antibiotic invention, it’s fantastic that the INEOS donation means we can do this in the UK.”
Professor Timothy Rutland Walsh
Professor Tim Walsh is Professor of Medical Microbiology in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, and has been studying AMR mechanisms for over 20 years, has published over 350 papers and publishes regularly in Nature and Lancet journals.
He is director of BARNARDS, the lead Gates Foundation project on AMR, examining the burden of neonatal sepsis in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria (Abuja and Kano) and Ethiopia. This project enrolled 36,000 mothers and over 38,000 neonatal cases.
Professor Walsh is also PI of DETER-XDR-CHINA, a study examining the spread and burden of AMR in public health sectors and hospitals in 30 provinces in China. He holds an honorary chair at the Chinese Agricultural University and was pivotal in the decision for the Chinese government to ban the use of colistin as a growth promoter on farms. He is also PI of CUT-SEC, a ‘one-health’ project in China and Thailand and has 12 active international projects, particularly in low-middle income countries.
Tim Walsh, Professor of Medical Microbiology at Oxford, says: "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."