BBSRC investments ‘likely critical’ to UK AMR vision, experts say

Biofilm of antibiotic resistant bacteria

An expert panel has concluded that BBSRC’s investments are ‘likely to be critical’ in realising the UK’s 20-year vision for tackling antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a major threat to human health, contributing to almost 5 million deaths worldwide in 2019 alone.

Bioscience research and innovation has the potential to play a vital role in addressing this global threat.

As the UK’s major public funder of bioscience research, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests around £30 million each year in AMR research.

Rigorous evaluation

Throughout 2021 and 2022, a panel of independent experts conducted a rigorous evaluation of BBSRC’s investments in AMR research to assess its effectiveness and impact.

Comprising of individuals from the BBSRC community, industry and specialists with expertise of relevance to AMR research, the panel focused their evaluation on 4 key areas:

  • new knowledge and understanding
  • economic and societal impact
  • knowledge exchange and supporting stakeholder needs
  • BBSRC’s support for AMR research

Internationally leading research

The evaluation panel concluded that BBSRC’s AMR investments have supported high-quality, internationally leading research.

As well as contributing to a variety of discoveries, BBSRC’s investments have unlocked ‘new knowledge with the potential to underpin future advances addressing the challenges associated with AMR’.

Emerging economic and societal impact

The independent panel concluded that BBSRC’s investments are ‘likely to be critical in enabling the UK to realise its 20-year vision for tackling AMR’.

Key evidence to support this conclusion includes:

  • 52% of BBSRC grant holders indicated a successful or very successful contribution to at least 1 strategic objective from the UK 5-year action plan for AMR
  • 8% of grants reported new intellectual property
  • 4% reported the establishment of a spin-out
  • 11% demonstrated an influence on policy and practice

That said, there is room for improvement. To ensure future AMR investments realise their full potential, BBSRC should seek to:

  • increase engagement between academics, industry, policymakers and practitioners
  • improve grant holder awareness of wider government strategic drivers in addressing AMR and how their research can contribute
  • improve levels of translation across the AMR portfolio
  • foster closer working across UK Research and Innovation to maximise potential to deliver economic and societal impact

Collaborative strength

Collaboration and partnerships are mission critical in tackling AMR and this was highlighted as an area of strength for BBSRC.

Improved collaboration partnerships were reported by 58% of grant holders as a result of their AMR research project.

The expert panel also found that international partnerships had provided significant added value to the BBSRC AMR research portfolio.

Indeed, international collaborations have enabled the exploration of research questions that would not otherwise be possible.

Distinctive contribution to UK AMR research

Overall, the balance and coverage of BBSRC’s AMR portfolio was deemed very good.

The expert panel also recognised BBSRC’s role in ‘making a distinctive contribution to the wider UK AMR research and innovation landscape, with a particular focus on underpinning biology that would enable subsequent investment by others.’

However, there are areas of opportunity that BBSRC can capitalise upon with its future investments, which include:

  • supporting the development pipeline for new antimicrobial agents
  • the use of antimicrobial agents in the preservation of food and other products
  • diagnostics to detect emerging AMR in plants and animals
  • addressing the changing AMR landscape in response to climate change

Future focus

The 2022 evaluation of BBSRC’s AMR investments tells a positive story.

Through a variety of investment mechanisms, BBSRC has provided effective support for AMR research. Research that will ‘make a foundational contribution to the UK’s 20-year vision for tackling AMR’.

As for the future, to fully realise the ambition set out in the UK’s 20-year vision for tackling AMR, BBSRC must continue to work hand in hand with its national and international partners. BBSRC must work across sectors to ensure the effective translation of AMR research into wider impacts and benefits.

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair at BBSRC, said:

I would like to thank Professor Paul Hoskisson and his expert review panel for their dedication to task in evaluating BBSRC’s investments in AMR research.

This full and thorough evaluation is critical for BBSRC in ensuring our future strategic investments realise their full potential in tackling the major challenge that antimicrobial resistance presents.

Top image:  Credit: Dr_Microbe, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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