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Diagnostics and defence

Posted 19/11/2014 by cgodfrey

Keeping your enemy in the dark about your military capabilities is one of the most basic rules of modern warfare. In the continuing war on antibiotic resistance, however, there is no choice but to use antibiotics to vanquish the infections that the bacteria cause.

This week, on European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November, the UK announced the launch of a £10m competition to spur the development of a new weapon to tackle the problem, by helping GPs to deploy antibiotics more effectively - only at the true enemy targets.

Run by Nesta and supported by Innovate UK, the new name for the Technology Strategy Board, Longitude Prize 2014 aims to encourage researchers to come up with of a new diagnostic tool for bacterial infections, designed to assist GPs in targeting them against the specific strains identified.

Over-prescribing of antibiotics blamed for fuelling the resistance crisis remains a massive unchecked problem. As Britain’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies pointed out at a recent SCI meeting, prescribing rates even around the UK vary wildly; from 8.4% in Newcastle West to 4% in the London borough of Camden (C&I, 2014, 10, 12). A recent survey of over 1000 UK GPs, meanwhile, has found that 28% prescribe antibiotics ‘several times a week’ even when they are not medically necessary.

‘The Longitude Prize presents a fantastic opportunity for innovation and invention through rapid diagnosis of infections,’ said Davies, who is also on the Longitude Committee. ‘This will reduce the use of antibiotics and help to preserve the ones have. Failure to act could mean the end of modern medicine as we know it.’

One biotechnology company already gearing up to take on the challenge is DNAe whose semiconductor DNA sequencing technology, Genalysis, translates chemically-encoded information in DNA into digital information on a semiconductor chip. This invention has been recognised with the EPO Inventor of the Year Award going to Chris Toumazou, who is also the recipient this year of the UK Institution of Engineering and Technology’s highest accolade, the Faraday Medal.

‘By taking on the Longitude Prize’s challenge of developing faster, cheaper and more accessible diagnostics,’ commented Toumazou, ‘we can ensure that clinicians receive actionable, accurate DNA-specific information on which to make informed treatment decisions’.

Cath O’Driscoll - Deputy editor

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