Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) develops when bacteria, fungi or viruses are exposed to antibiotics, antifungals or antivirals. As a result, the antimicrobials become ineffective and infections may persist. In addition, medical interventions including surgery, chemotherapy and stem cell therapy may become impossible. AMR is considered by WHO as one of the biggest global threats of Health and Food Safety.
There were a couple of moments during the recent Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Inward Mission virtual event where the importance of tackling the issue really sank in and that inspired us to plan for new Inward Missions in 2022.
1. The medical challenge: there were around 48,000 deaths in the USA in 2017 as a result of AMR. This is expected to rocket to at least 10 million worldwide by 2050, probably more.
2. The financial challenge: while there is a strong health incentive, there is not a financial one. It costs nearly $2 billion to develop, test, licence and sell a new antibiotic, but pathways to reclaim the investment are close to non-existent.
3. The planning challenge: What is the best way to stop a pandemic? Vaccinate before it even begins. But how can you create a vaccine or antimicrobial against a resistant pathogen not yet identified?
The GBIP programme for antimicrobial resistance, but different
Innovate UK is responsible for identifying and funding the most promising technologies to tackle the big challenges. This helps UK companies develop the right answers, allowing businesses to get to market faster. Innovate UK EDGE supports these companies by offering a range of funded services to help them grow and scale.
One of the key programmes Innovate UK EDGE delivers is the Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP). Innovate UK identifies an emerging or vital sector in an international market and together with Innovate UK EDGE takes the best-fit SMEs to that market to meet key potential customers, investors and stakeholders. The programme has proven to be highly successful, with exciting outcomes for both UK companies and new international partners.
However, the opportunities around AMR and the UK’s excellence in the sector saw us develop a new model: the Inward Innovation Mission. Working closely with AMR Insights – a Dutch business run by AMR expert Maarten van Dongen that seeks to solve many of the issues the sector faces – our Inward Mission would use the UK and our ecosystem as the base to attract innovative, international SMEs to forge game-changing partnerships here.
The event – three days on three AMR-related subjects
Running GBIPs is more than just taking the businesses on the trip itself. It involves workshops to educate them on the state of the markets, the countries and customs, and the types of relationships potential partners are looking for. The Inward Innovation Mission required this to be done in reverse. We need to ensure that all innovative businesses and academics interested in the UK and our businesses know what we are looking for, what the state of the market is and some of the different initiatives and opportunities – in the UK and abroad – that are important.
And so a plan was set: a ‘physical mission’ would be preceded by a three day ‘virtual mission’. This was made available as a free-to-attend event that would accomplish the education, market opportunity and introduction to the programmes and UK/EU funding that we normally organise for UK companies before a GBIP.
Taking place in May 2021, the virtual event covered diagnostics (day 1), antimicrobials (day 2), preventatives and stewardship (day 3). Expert speakers were from all over the world, including experts from industry, big pharma, policy makers (including the US Congress), charities and funders. Registration was free, and over 400 businesses men, academics and healthcare experts attended from 64 countries, dipping in and out of the sessions on the days most relevant to them. With 28% of participants from the UK, 58% from the EU and the remaining 14% from the rest of the world, the event certainly had international appeal and approval. A significant number – more than one third – were SMEs. As we continue to collect feedback, we are excited to understand the impact of the event.
“The virtual mission laid an excellent foundation for strengthening international cooperation and joint innovation to combat AMR,” said Maarten van Dongen.
“The large number of partnering meetings demonstrated that the scientific community recognises the importance of collaboration to enable it to urgently develop solutions to address the slow AMR pandemic,” said Phil Packer, Innovation Lead AMR and Vaccines , Innovate UK.
What are the next steps for the Inward Innovation Mission?
COVID-19 continues to play havoc with the planning for the next steps. Determined not to lose momentum and thanks to the high number of participants, we have the opportunity to present the results at a number of international AMR events. But really, we want to make sure that we do not lose sight of the reason we ran the event in the first place; we want international businesses, academics and experts to work together to solve one of the greatest crises of our time.
With the global fight against COVID-19 finally feeling like one we will win sooner rather than later, Innovate UK, Innovate UK EDGE and AMR Insights hope that 2022 will see two physical Inward Missions to the UK. The first, taking place in Q2 of 2022, will likely be an EU focused programme. Then, in Q3, the main event will take place, as international businesses and academics will tour the UK’s AMR facilities, meet our key stakeholders and forge ahead developing relationships and partnerships we all need to safeguard our future.