A team of scientists has won coveted research funding as part of an international competition which aims to conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare.

The team, led by innovation company EDPAL together with University of Lincoln microbiologist Dr Ron Dixon, has won a grant from the Longitude Prize Discovery Awards – a seed-funding programme to help teams compete to win the Longitude Prize.

The Longitude Prize is a global challenge with a £10m prize fund that will reward a competitor who can develop an affordable, rapid and easy-to-use diagnostic test for bacterial infections. The winning point–of–care diagnostic test will help health professionals worldwide administer the right antibiotics at the right time, and it is hoped that it will ultimately help to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance.

The challenge is run by innovation foundation Nesta and supported by Innovate UK as funding partner.

From hundreds of entries, the EDPAL and Lincoln team was one of only 13 winners in this round of funding, with just three others based in the UK. Funding for the 2017 Discovery Awards draws on a grant of £250,000 from MSD, a global healthcare company. Each team awarded funding throughout the competition will progress their research and be assessed by the Longitude Committee (made up of leading experts from across the scientific and industrial world) until a winner of the £10m prize is chosen.
The EDPAL and University of Lincoln team hopes to develop a new system which will help doctors quickly and accurately identify the right antibiotic to tackle different bacteria. If realised, this tool will be invaluable in guiding specific antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections, helping to reduce the spread of drug resistance.

EDPAL was formed by two chemists, Dr Keith Edmondson and Mr Mike Palin, with extensive experience of research and development in wool chemistry and technology. Their appeal to work with microbiologists to pursue their entry idea for the Longitude Prize was met by Dr Ron Dixon, Reader in Biomedical Sciences in the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, who worked with one of his students on promising preliminary tests.

Having secured prestigious Discovery Awards funding, the team’s work will now focus on examining the proteins in bacteria and how they interact with other substances. Specialists from EDPAL already understand how proteins in wool can form a variety of colour complexes with other chemicals, and the team will use this knowledge to devise a colour-based test for bacteria proteins. This test would allow them to correctly and accurately identify particular types of bacteria, and in turn could help health professionals to select the correct antibiotic so that they know it will be effective in tackling an infection.

Clinicians often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to sick patients because they have to act quickly on imperfect information, however treating a condition with the wrong antibiotic can help bacteria build up immunity to drugs and therefore contributes to the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Dr Keith Edmondson, Managing Partner of EDPAL, explained: “The development of antibiotics has been vital to improving human health, yet the rise of antimicrobial resistance is threatening to make them ineffective in the future. In the long term our work will not stop the misuse of antibiotics where no regulation of their use is present, but it will provide a tool for the focused prescription of the correct antibiotic and thereby significantly slow the increase in antibiotic resistance. This will allow additional time to develop new antibiotics and ensure that they are useful for a longer period. Hopefully this will persuade drug companies that it is well worthwhile investing in new antibiotics for the future.”

Dr Ron Dixon, Reader in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln said: “The proof of concept for the project was developed in our laboratories by one of our Forensic Science students, supported by myself and PhD researcher Joe Brown, and the initial results were very encouraging. The Discovery Award funding will now support a dedicated researcher working on this for the next 18 months, and we look forward to progressing this exciting work. We are ultimately working towards a more intelligent use of antibiotics, enabling a future of more effective prevention, targeted treatments and smart clinical decision support systems.”

The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotics treatments add an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But in the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, overuse of antibiotics has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.

Dr Dixon at the University of Lincoln has been researching the mode of action and resistance of antibiotics for the past 30 years, and fellow academics from Lincoln’s Schools of Pharmacy, Life Sciences and Chemistry are also leading a study into the development of Teixobactin – a ‘game-changing’ new antibiotic capable of tackling superbugs without detectable resistance.

For more information on the Longitude Prize competition, visit: www.longitudeprize.org