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  • Public say antibiotics no longer working is second ‘greatest threat’ to the UK
  • Prize backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, Prof Alice Roberts, Lord Martin Rees and Dame Sally Davies
  • Portrait of Alexander Fleming made from tablet capsules commissioned to mark the Prize opening

The £10m Longitude Prize has opened to competitors around the world today on European Antibiotics Awareness Day (18 November) to help tackle antibiotic resistance. A survey for Longitude Prize published today shows that almost four in five (78%) people in the UK are concerned that antibiotics will no longer work in the future and half (48%) are looking to science for a solution within ten years. 

The survey also showed that more than one in five (22%) see antibiotics no longer working as the greatest health threat to the UK, second only to cancer (37%).

At the end of June, the British public voted for antibiotics to be the focus of the £10 million Longitude Prize. The race is now on to develop a transformative point-of-care test that will identify when antibiotics are needed and, if they are, which ones to use.  A solution that meets the prize criteria will not only help conserve antibiotics for future generations but also revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare. The Prize will be awarded by an eminent committee chaired by Lord Martin Rees and including Dame Sally Davies, Baron Peter Piot and Professor Alice Roberts.

Although respondents to the survey expressed concern about the preservation of antibiotics, almost a quarter admitted to not finishing a course of antibiotics, rising to 33% amongst the under 35 year olds.  Not finishing a course contributes to antibiotic resistance and highlights the role we all can play in tackling it. 

The respondents also ranked antibiotic resistance against the threats on the UK’s National Risk Register – the Government’s assessment and potential impact of civil emergency risks – ranking antibiotics no longer working second only to the threat of a terrorist attack, followed by coastal flooding, pandemic outbreak, volcanic eruptions abroad and wildfires.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I am proud of the UK’s world-class life sciences and biotech sector, which through the course of this Parliament has secured over £3bn investment and created over 8,000 jobs for Britain. It is a crucial part of our long term economic plan.

“I am looking to this sector to lead an urgent response to the threat of anti-microbial resistance, which if left unaddressed could cost millions of lives across the world.

“I’m delighted that the British public has decided that the Longitude Prize should focus on tackling antibiotic resistance, and I look forward to hearing more about how we can work to solve this challenge.”

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta and Longitude Prize committee member, said: “The public has quickly gained a very sophisticated understanding of antibiotic resistance as a prime example of how the very things which deliver progress also bring new problems in their wake. Threats from viruses like Ebola remind us just how vulnerable our health systems can become. Our hope is that the combination of the prize and greater awareness of the problem will fuel a dramatic acceleration in the search for solutions, many of which will be surprising and from unexpected sources.”

Entries to Longitude Prize need to show when antibiotics are needed and, if they are, which ones to use. The test must:

  • Be accurate to inform treatment decisions

  • Be affordable to everyone who needs it

  • Provide a result within 30 minutes

  • Be easy to use in any location, anywhere in the world

With the opening of Longitude Prize to competitors today the full and final criteria has been published. To find out what competitors have to do to win visit www.longitudeprize.org.

Competitors have up to five years to find a solution to the Longitude Prize, with regular submission deadlines. After these deadlines entries will be reviewed and potential winning solutions will be put forward to the Longitude Committee based on the recommendations from the Longitude Prize Advisory Panel – a newly formed panel of antimicrobial resistance and diagnostic experts. The winner of the Longitude Prize could be selected at any stage throughout the five-year period.

Simultaneously, the prize will be running an award for early-stage, promising developments called the Longitude Discovery Award. This award will provide support to competitors who need it to develop their ideas.

To mark the opening of Longitude Prize a portrait of Alexander Fleming - best known for his discovery of penicillin – has been commissioned. The artwork has been created by pop culture portrait artist Nathan Wyburn using 25,800 capsules, each representing one antibiotic item dispensed – approximately the amount dispensed every five hours in the UK*.

The Longitude Prize has been developed by Nesta. It was launched by the Prime Minister at G8 last year, and through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is being supported by Innovate UK (the new name for the Technology Strategy Board) as funding partner.

  • *In the UK over 50 million antibacterial items were dispensed in the community in 2013. This figure was made by adding community pharmacy dispensed items from BNF section 5.01 for each of the individual countries making up the UK for 2013. The image is available on request.
  • Photo credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire. Portrait of Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, by Nathan Wyburn using antibiotic capsules.