British public votes to solve antibiotics challenge

The votes are in and Britons have laid down the Longitude Prize gauntlet. Listen up geniuses and innovators - the British public are looking for radical breakthroughs to provide the world with a healthy future - unhindered by antimicrobial resistance – and are prepared to reward you handsomely for it.  

There has been frenzied debate over the six weeks leading up to the vote. Over coffees, family dinners and pints of beer, millions of people have been discussing the relative merits of tackling the rise of dementia and building carbon neutral planes. 

There have also been vigorous debates by the UK’s innovators of tomorrow in schools up and down the country - energised by the potential of ideas to change our world. What happens next will continue to inspire more of our young people to become innovators and change-makers. 

Britons, given the keys to the lab, have revealed what a forward looking, pro-innovation country we are.

The public has chosen to begin a race for a new diagnostic that prevents misuse of precious antibiotics and therefore prevents the rise of drug resistance by reducing the amount of broad spectrum antibiotics that are prescribed. This shows an interest in finding solutions which will benefit the maximum number of people for the good of humanity.

We understand the problem and now we want action

We all rely hugely on antimicrobials. Without them, routine medical treatments such as surgery, transplants and chemotherapy will become much riskier. Despite their importance, no major new classes of antimicrobials have been discovered since the 1980s and antimicrobial resistance is rising. For example, the number of notified cases of multidrug resistant TB has risen from nearly 5,000 in 2005 to nearly 350,000 in 2011. It’s a problem which the scientific community has known about for a long time and has been compared with the challenges of climate change. We should learn a lot then about a process which engages the public in determining action, rather than seeking retrospective public support for initiatives decided by experts behind closed doors.    

The remit from the public is clear – we get the problem and now we want action.  

This is direct democracy in action – and it’s interesting that given the choice, the public opted for a prize with more global implications that national ones. Could this be a model for the future, with decisions taken between experts and the public in conversation and in tandem?

Keep tuned in


Tris Dyson

Tris Dyson

Tris Dyson

Executive Director, Challenge Works


Tris has led Challenge Works from its origins as a Nesta experiment to being a global hub for expertise and insight on challenge prizes.

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