North of England ‘has the mindset to tackle antibiotic crisis.’
Lord Jim O’Neill has spoken of how well the North of England is placed to lead research into tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the issue which the United Nations has just declared “the greatest and most urgent risk” to public health around the world.
Lord O’Neill, who chaired the UK Government’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, addressed the Bioinfect 2016 conference at Alderley Park, Cheshire. The event looked at what measures can be taken to replenish our dwindling pool of effective antibiotics - a problem that already kills 700,000 people a year. AMR is expected to claim 10 million extra lives a year by 2050 – a higher death toll than cancer.
“For most of the past two years of my life two things have been separately driving me. One is antimicrobial resistance. The other is the Northern Powerhouse. I am really enthusiastic about merging the two in some areas,” said Lord O’Neill, who recently stepped down as a Treasury minister from Theresa May’s government.
He highlighted the AMR Centre, a public-private organisation set up earlier this year at Alderley Park to conduct and fund research into new drugs and diagnostic advances, as an example of how the North can help tackle the crisis.
“The idea that there can be a specialist AMR Centre right in the middle of the Northern Powerhouse is fantastic. I will do whatever I can to support the AMR Centre here. It’s a very exciting development. It does represent genuine research. We need this. If this centre helps generate new ideas, new gram-negatives, especially, that’s the cutting edge in terms of solving this huge problem and that will attract a lot of investors, including from pharmaceutical world.
“You can build a facility anywhere. I think the edge we have in the North is the mindset. And obviously there’s the legacy of where this particular facility [Alderley Park] came from. There’s a lot of history in this part of the world with pharma.
“Life science is one of four areas where the North has an edge and what more could be more at the forefront than a centre to tackle AMR?”
Dr Peter Jackson, chair of the steering group behind the new AMR Centre, welcomed the support. “We are in a rapidly evolving crisis and there’s a great emphasis on the move from policy to action. In the summer we joined the world’s largest public-private partnership - CARB-X - that will rejuvenate the pipeline of anti-microbial drugs and diagnostics. Since then we have received over 350 enquiries about support for projects in this area.”
Chris Doherty, managing director of Alderley Park, said: “The geographical scope of the AMR problem is unlimited and its consequences are devastating. The North of England has always been a place of innovation and discovery and has a very strong AMR cluster in the form of the AMR Centre, Evotec, Redx Pharma, Blueberry Therapeutics, Absynth Biologics and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Further afield, there’s QuantuMDx, Demuris and OJ-Bio.”
Lord O’Neill expressed his confidence that the AMR issue will remain high on the policy agenda. His review team’s achievements include getting AMR on the agenda at the G20 summit chaired by China in September. Germany will host the summit in 2017 and continue to recognise AMR as a priority.
“There is defined focus on working up a new model for support for new drugs in this area. The UN declaration in September is also a stand out moment. It’s only the fourth time in history of UN there’s been a high level declaration about health. I like to describe that declaration as the end of the beginning – it was a really important moment.”
In terms of his own future, Lord O’Neill said he was taking time to reflect. “I’m happily unemployed. I don’t know what’s next – I want to take a bit of time. I’m reverting to something I used when I left Goldman Sachs – whatever I do, if it can’t be better, it’s got to be different. The AMR Review was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done. I’m not going to do something for the sake of it. So we’ll see what happens.”
Hosted by the Life Science Industry group Bionow, BioInfect 2016 is supported by a range of sponsors including Redx Pharma Plc and Manchester Science Partnerships.