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  • 46% of UK oncologists believe drug-resistant infections will make chemotherapy unviable.
  • The average oncologist sees 23% of their patients develop an infection during treatment.
  • 5% of cancer patients undergoing surgery currently develop a drug-resistant infection.
  • 65,000 cancer patients at risk of contracting drug-resistant infection after surgery in the UK this decade.
  • 60% of oncologists agree that labs take too long to accurately diagnose an infection in their patients.
  • The Longitude Prize – the £8m challenge prize aimed at accelerating the development of rapid diagnostic tests to identify bacterial infections - extends entry deadline.

A new study of UK oncologists from the Longitude Prize, run by Nesta Challenges, shines a light on the emerging threat that antibiotic resistance presents to the treatment of cancer. It reveals that four in 10 (41%) UK oncologists have seen a rise in drug-resistant infections in the past 12 months and that 95% of them are worried about the impact of “superbugs” on their patients. Almost half (46%) of those polled say they believe drug-resistant infections could make chemotherapy unviable.

Every day, cancer patients rely on antibiotics for prevention and treatment of infections. This is one of the most common complications of their treatment. The rise of multidrug-resistant bacteria poses a major global health problem and the implications for cancer patients are significant. Cancer is typically treated with a range of surgical and non-surgical interventions and many of these treatments leave a patient with a weakened immune system and more vulnerable to infection. Given how fundamental antibiotics are to supporting cancer treatment and recovery, the threat of resistance has the potential to undermine modern cancer treatment as we know it.

The study also shows us that the average doctor sees 23% of their patients develop an infection during treatment. More than a third (36%) of cancer patients require surgery to treat the disease [1], with 5% of those surgical patients currently developing a drug-resistant infection. Extrapolated nationally, this means some 65,000 cancer patients could develop potentially life-threatening drug-resistant infections following surgery in the coming decade. [2]

Commenting on the findings, Daniel Berman, Global Health Director, Nesta Challenges said: “Oncologists are right to be concerned about growing levels of antibiotic resistance being experienced by their patients post-surgery or those undergoing chemotherapy. We cannot change the rules of biology to stop superbugs appearing but we can slow their development and improve infection control and prevention. We owe it to all patients to have better real-time diagnostic tests developed and on the market to enable medical practitioners to know when and which antibiotics to prescribe on-the-spot. The teams of innovators, both here in the UK and around the world, competing to win the Longitude Prize are focused on this critical challenge.”

The research also revealed that:

  1. When asked how quickly they think drug-resistant infections will make some cancer treatments obsolete: 28% oncologists say within the next five years; 39% say within the next decade; 15% in 20 years’ time.
  2. Staphylococcus, E. coli and pseudomonas are named the worst offenders of the superbugs and the majority of the oncologists (86%) believe these infections are putting cancer patients at greater risk of serious harm.
  3. 60% of the oncologists agree that labs take too long to accurately diagnose an infection in their patients.
  4. 70% say they need better support and resources to protect their patients from contracting a drug-resistant during their treatment.
  5. 90% agree with the statement that a rapid diagnostic tool would significantly improve how bacterial infections are diagnosed.

Responding to the findings, Professor Kefah Mokbel, a consultant breast cancer surgeon and chairman of the multidisciplinary breast cancer programme at the London Breast Institute, commented: “The development of sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, in chemotherapy patients can be so devastating that we must start them on IV antibiotics straightaway. We can’t wait two days or more for the results of the microbiology tests to come back.”

In response to feedback from competing teams internationally, the deadline for the £8m Longitude Prize has been extended for two years until 30 September 2022. The extension is meant to ensure that the competing teams have enough time to complete development of their rapid point-of-care tests. Today there are 53 registered competitors: new teams are still welcome to join the competition.

The research report is available to download via the Longitude Prize website here.


For press enquiries, please contact:

Kasia Murphy ([email protected])

Andrew McKay ([email protected]

Images and case studies available on request or via the website

About Longitude Prize

The Longitude Prize is a £10m prize fund, with an £8m payout, that will reward a team of researchers who develop a point–of–care diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare. The test must be accurate, rapid, affordable and easy to use anywhere in the world.

About Nesta Challenges

Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions. We shine a spotlight where it matters and incentivise people to solve these issues. We are independent supporters of change to help communities thrive and inspire the best placed, most diverse groups of people around the world to take action. We support the boldest and bravest ideas to become real, and seed long term change to advance society and build a better future for everyone. We are part of the innovation foundation, Nesta.

Survey Research methodology 
medeConnect Healthcare Insight surveyed 100 UK Oncologists between 20th December 2019 and 3rd February 2020. medeConnect is the market research division of is the largest website for doctors in the UK and around a quarter of UK doctors log on every day.

[1] Potential burden of antibiotic resistance on surgery and cancer chemotherapy antibiotic prophylaxis in the USA: a literature review and modelling study, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2015

[2] Macmillan Cancer Support Statistics Fact Sheet, February 2019 (based on 2001 - 2016 incidence figures compiled for each nation from Office for National Statistics, ISD Scotland, Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit and Northern Ireland Cancer Registry) reports that there is an average of 360,000 new cancer cases a year. Based on that data, and the survey findings, it would mean on average, 129,600 cancer patients require surgery a year – and that 6,480 will go on to develop potentially life-threatening drug resistant infections. Between 2020 and 2029, 64,800 cancer patients could develop drug resistant infections following surgery.