New Oxford Institute Will Tackle Antibiotic Resistance

A £100 million donation from Ineos will fund collaborative effort across sciences.

Remember antibiotic resistance? It seems almost quaint to think about it now, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) still considers resistant pathogens “one of the biggest threats to global health”—and one that will likely persist after the pandemic is over, whenever that is. Now, a leading academic institution, Oxford University, has established a dedicated center to serve as home base for research into the key issue.

Funded with a £100 million donation from the chemical company of the same name, the Ineos Oxford Institute (IOI) will create collaborative and cross-disciplinary links across the sciences, effectively linking the university’s Department of Chemistry with the Department of Zoology in a new Life & Mind Building, which is currently under construction, school officials said.

“The IOI will undertake basic research on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which will address how we survey AMR, what is the true burden of AMR, and how we can administer medicines to poorer populations around the world for critical infections,” Timothy R. Walsh, PhD, a professor of medical microbiology in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, told Contagion®. “Additionally, the IOI has a policy and education program where we will run world-class workshops and teaching modules and also facilitate putting AMR back on the global agenda.”

He added, “Having been given this extremely generous gift allows us to move with great agility and flexibility into various areas of AMR that may not be possible with other institutions or organizations. We have already had very useful and engaging collaborations with the WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and intend on working very closely with these global authorities to explore how we can synergize with their activities whilst also being committed to our desire to create new and useful compounds supported by fundamental academic world-class research.”

Resistance has arguably taken a back seat to the new coronavirus, at least since the start of the pandemic. However, while SARS-CoV-2 has caused nearly 2.2 million deaths globally (as of this writing) since late-December of 2019, drug-resistant pathogens could kill as many as 10 million people annually by 2050, unless new medications are developed, according to recent estimates.

This is not to trivialize or diminish the impact of COVID-19. It is justifiably the public health challenge of the moment. Still, the world can’t forget the issue of resistance, and initiatives such as IOI hope to keep it at the forefront.

According to Dr. Walsh, who will serve as the institute’s biology lead, the goals of the new project will include:

  • The development of new antibiotic treatments, “both for human and, in particular, animal use,” with emphasis on the delivery of new compounds into animal and human clinical trials.
  • Ongoing assessment of the ethical and regulatory aspects of AMR.
  • The translation of basic research underpinning antibiotic drug discovery programs into “action that has an impact for the benefit of society, through education and communication programs.”

At least initially, the IOI will have 4 “interlinked work streams:” research into new animal-only drugs for fisheries, poultry, pork and beef; treatment for human Gram-negative infections; breakthrough research and education on AMR; and efforts to reshape global policy and communication/education on AMR.

“Influencing clinical practice in the short-term will come through policy and how we wish to engage in discussion on banning all human antibiotics currently used as prophylaxis and metaphylaxis in animals,” Walsh said. “In the long-term, this will be through how we discover new or repurpose old drugs and re-examine existing therapies.”