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Antibiotics research wins public’s vote – Longitude Prize

‘Antibiotics’ has been announced as the winner of the Longitude prize, meaning researchers can use a £10m prize fund to focus on looking for a solution to the rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics, writes Abi Lillicrap.

The public were offered five other categories to choose between – paralysis, dementia, flight, food and water – with each involving a real challenge to mankind that neither the free market nor governments are tackling effectively enough.

BBC Two’s ‘Horizon’ set up the public vote by presenting each of the challenges and possible solutions on the programme, before instructing viewers to vote via their website or by text. The results were announced on the 25th June on The One Show, revealing that the increase in the rise of resistance to antibiotics is of the highest concern to the public.

Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies said: "I am delighted that Antibiotics has been voted to receive the Longitude prize funds. I feel extremely passionate about the work that will be able to take place now, and I thank everyone that has taken the time to vote.

"Thanks to the Longitude Prize, we will be able to start the development of a rapid diagnostic test, which will help to conserve the antibiotics we have and thus ensure they remain effective for as long as possible. Antimicrobial Resistance is one of the most important issues facing modern medicine in the world today and development of a rapid diagnostic has the potential to improve patient care on a global scale.”

Antibiotics are over-prescribed, allowing the emergence of micro-organisms that have built up a resistance to antibiotics, which have previously been an effective form of treatment. The Longitude Prize is focused on introducing a test for bacterial infections that can be used by medical professionals, enabling a more intelligent targeting of treatments at the correct time.

Nesta and the Longitude Committee are now in the process of setting up the full challenge and prize criteria, available for people to win, if they can come up with a solution. From autumn of 2014, The Longitude Prize website can be used to submit ideas but you can also register now if you want to be involved. The competition is open to competitors across the world, giving them up to five years to submit their solution, which will be assessed by the Longitude committee.

Lord Martin Rees, chair of the Longitude Committee and Astronomer Royal, said: "I hope that Longitude Prize 2014 will speed up progress towards meeting the challenge of resistance to antibiotics by stimulating invention and innovation – especially 'out of the box' thinking. Over the summer we will firm up the prize rules and set goals that incentivise as many people as possible to participate."

The hope is that a more targeted way of prescribing antibiotics will mean that treatments become more effective. This would therefore prevent the rise in resistance and ensure that the public continues to be protected from common infections. This focus will provide a strategy that realises that the development of a new widely available antibiotic would eventually meet resistance, if used in the current way. The Longitude Prize carry an understanding of the importance of targeting treatments effectively avoiding misdiagnosis, as this is what will provide a long term solution to resistance. 

The full list of categories was:

Flight - How can we fly without damaging the environment?

Food - How can we ensure everyone has nutritious, sustainable food?

Antibiotics – How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?

Paralysis - How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?

Water - How can we ensure everyone can have access to safe and clean water?

Dementia - How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer?


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