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Researchers: UK needs more AMR funding

Despite the severe threat that the emergence of antimicrobial resistance poses to the ability to treat many infections, the United Kingdom research funding targeting this area is still too small, according to a team of researchers from University College London. The study is the first systematic analysis of research funding for infectious disease research and for antimicrobial resistance, in the United Kingdom between 1997 and 2010.

There were 6,165 studies identified that were funded during the 14-year period, covering all infectious disease research, representing a total investment of about $3.5 billion. Among those studies, 337 studies were funded for antimicrobial resistance research, comprising 5.5 percent of total infectious disease research projects. These were awarded $136 million; only 3.9 percent of the total spend, with a median award of just more than $160,000. Thirty-four percent ($46 million) of the total funding for antimicrobial resistance was related to global health.

“Complex research priorities depend upon a myriad of factors, both internationally and at national/more local level,” says Michael Head of UCL, who led the research team. “Antimicrobial resistance and the diseases where this is particularly a problem seems to have suffered from a lower profile in recent years than e.g. HIV or malaria. Some of the diseases are tuberculosis, E. coli, and gonorrhea.”

Head also told Med Ad News Daily, “The tide does appear to be turning, in that antimicrobial resistance is very much recognized as a priority now. Whilst it’s never ‘too late’ to address the problem, it would have been much better if there was a concerted global effort to tackle this problem 10 to 15 years ago.”

All the studies included in the project were either publically or charitably funded. There were not any privately funded studies included because of the limited data publically available. Professor Rifat Atun from Imperial College London, one of the authors of the paper, said “Antimicrobial resistance is rising globally and in the United Kingdom at an alarming rate. Failure to invest in antimicrobial research means we are poorly prepared to manage the rising drug resistant infections with major health and economic consequences. Time is ripe for strong leadership to ensure sustained and targeted funding for global and UK-level action.”

The study highlights drug-resistant tuberculosis as an example of a growing problem, with the World Health Organization estimating 630,000 cases worldwide. This and other multi-drug resistant bacteria such as E. coli are areas of potentially the greatest future burden. Hence, “there is a compelling case for increased funding for antimicrobial resistance research, particularly in disciplines such as epidemiology, modeling, economics, policy, and behavioral research,” say the authors.

“There are efforts to be a little more ‘clever’ in prescribing antibiotics in the hope this will slow the development of resistance to them, and to test combinations of antibiotics to see if they are more effective together,” Head says. “There are also efforts to develop new antibiotics to replace the existing ones that come up against lots of resistant bacteria.”

Posted: September 2013