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Antimicrobial Resistance

The race is on and the stakes are high


Geoff Mulgan

CEO, Nesta

The challenge of antibiotic resistance is now much better understood than it was. We now know that decades of progress could reverse, potentially threatening millions of lives.

Last year the public voted to make antimicrobial resistance the topic for the new Longitude Prize. Since then there have been two sets of submissions to the Longitude Prize, including many imaginative and lateral ideas, and results will be announced soon.

As antibiotic resistance has moved closer to the top of the global health agenda, a coalition has taken shape to galvanise action. Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to pledge money towards new antibiotic R&D; many groups are working to study resistance; big livestock producers are phasing out wide antibiotic use in farming; and lots more money is being pumped into research. A useful input was the UK Government’s report headed by Jim O’Neill which showed the potential cost of antibiotic resistance could be as high as 300 million deaths and $100 trillion by 2050.

The Longitude Prize is just one part of this picture – but a crucial one.  We’ve focused the prize on diagnostics to reduce dependence on antibiotics as a means of tackling infections. At the moment it is very difficult for doctors to tell which antibiotics are needed to treat an infection. If anyone can develop an easy and quick way to tell what infection a patient has (and whether antibiotics are even needed – infections caused by a virus won’t be affected by antibiotics which will only kill bacteria) this would lead to much more targeted use of antibiotics, and a much reduced threat from resistant strains.

Over the last few months the Nesta Longitude team has been all over the world encouraging applicants, with events across the US, China, India, Europe and South America, and applicants from all over the world, 114 in total to date, have already registered. We won’t know how far we are from a winner for some time – the beauty of challenge prizes is that they only get awarded when a new idea has been proven to work. But the race is now on – and the stakes are incredibly high. If you are part of a team with a potential answer, or would like to be linked up with other teams, please get in touch at: [email protected].

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