Q&A with Professor Paul Williams on new AAMR course

17 November 2016

17 Nov 2016

This week is World Antibiotic Awareness Week. As part of SCI’s support for the campaign, we interviewed Professor Paul Williams about the doctoral training programme, supported by The Wellcome Trust, that he has created with Professor Ian Henderson to train highly skilled AAMR scientists in the UK.

Tell me a little bit about the course.
Antimicrobials and Antimicrobial Resistance (AAMR) is a broad multi-disciplinary research field that requires a thorough understanding of the basic molecular and chemical biology of bacterial pathogens, the science behind antibacterial drug discovery and development and the evolution, impact and spread of antibiotic resistance. So our 4 year Wellcome Trust AAMR doctoral training programme (DTP), run jointly by the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham, is open to individuals with backgrounds in the physical sciences, mathematics as well as the life sciences.
The first (MRes) year of the DTP is structured around a retreat, coursework, industrial and clinical placements, and two mini laboratory research projects that collectively are designed to bring everyone up to speed on the problems of AAMR from multiple perspectives. The PhD research project will be developed during the first year by each student in consultation with the selected supervisors and chosen from research themes that include: ‘targeting the Gram-negative bacterial cell envelope’, ‘Unconventional approaches to eradicating bacterial pathogens’, ‘Smart materials’, ‘Surface and secreted antigens’, ‘Host interactions and vaccines, and ‘Genomic epidemiology, bacterial evolution and antibiotic resistance’.
We will be taking on 10 students per year and the course is currently open for applications for the October 2017 start.

What prompted you to develop this new PhD training programme?
Multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria pose a serious global health threat, especially when the new antibiotic discovery pipeline has dried to a trickle. Discovering new antibiotics is scientifically very challenging. Pharmaceutical company mergers and their withdrawal from the antibiotics discovery field because of the adverse economics of developing drugs that rapidly succumb to resistance has resulted in the loss of much antibacterial research expertise.
A new generation of multidisciplinary scientists is required if we are to effectively address AMR at this critical time. However, no training scheme capable of delivering a significant cohort of highly skilled AAMR scientists existed in the UK. Our vision is to fill the gaps via a dedicated graduate training programme built on the established complementary AAMR-relevant research strengths of the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham.
This allows flexible, innovative AAMR-related research projects with opportunities for observational placements with clinical and industrial partners to facilitate transferable skills training. The Wellcome Trust offers universities opportunities to make competitive bids for funding DTP programmes and we were successful so our first cohort of students has just started (October 2016).

How does this differ from what else is available at the moment?
As far as we are aware, there are no other doctoral training schemes specifically devoted to AAMR.

What do you hope will be the eventual outcome of this PhD course?
There are a few outcomes that we’re aiming for:

  • a significant number of highly qualified AAMR experts with a broad appreciation of the scope of the problem and the challenges of identifying a new antibacterial target.
  • the discovery of a novel drug-like compound and taking that through from lead chemical to useful drug entity as well as the drug delivery.
  • regulatory and economic issues
  • the ability to think laterally about new types of non-classical anti-infective therapies and means of preventing infection in the first place.

You can find out more about the AAMR doctoral training programme here. To read about antimicrobial and antibacterial resistance, visit the World Health Organisation here.

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