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Oxford tackling AMR

Oxford is home to world-class academic talent, research infrastructure and international networks. It has a long history of fighting infectious disease, and a long history of game changing research and technological breakthrough in many fields.

The history of antibiotic development is inextricably tied to Oxford University, and the culture of British innovation within its faculties- which includes the most recent and well-known development of an effective Covid-19 vaccine, and promising progress on tackling malaria.

The Institute will be based in the new Life and Mind Building (2023) at Oxford University, near the historic Dunn School.

It will make optimal use of major infrastructure investments at Oxford, and collaborate with academic expertise in synthetic chemistry, structural biology, clinical medicine and other specialisms to generate new global approaches to AMR.

The new INEOS Oxford Institute will bring together some of the brightest minds across several scientific specialisms, and make optimal use of major infrastructure investments at the University to spearhead novel research into the scale and solutions for our global AMR challenges. It intends to work collaboratively with other leading AMR teams to share research and expedite its findings.

Antibiotics were only invented and scaled up to become viable drugs in the 1940s

But now underpin all modern medicine. Oxford University played a lead role in the development of Penicillins, breakthrough medicines which remain of immense clinical importance.

A history of antibiotic discovery at Oxford

The story of Penicillin began with Alexander Fleming, at St Mary’s Hospital, London in 1928

Fleming discovered that the mould Penicillium notatum produces a substance that kills bacteria. A team at the Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford University, including Howard Florey, Ernest Chain , and Norman Heatley demonstrated the clinical utility of Penicillin and worked on procedures to optimize its production and isolation. For their work on Penicillin, Florey and Chain were aware the Nobel Prize with Fleming in 1944. Oxford Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin defined the chemical structure by X-ray analysis of crystals of a penicillin.

In the UK, by the end of 1945

8 British companies, including the chemical manufacturer ICI and the pharmacist Boots, along with the Royal Navy - were producing Penicillin in 12 different factories. In the US, Pfizer quickly became the world’s largest producer of Penicillin.

The enormous WW2 military demand for Penicillin

was a key reason for the rapid increase in its global production. Unusually, competitive corporate executives freely exchanged information about the market and the production technologies used, with huge positive impact.

In the second half of the 1940s,

the use of Penicillin surged across Europe. Post-war, the newly founded World Health Organization built its own penicillin factories to make the drug globally available. However, by 1946, the age of commercial openness and highly productive collaboration concerning Penicillin was over.

Antibiotic discovery drives through the 1940s and 1950s were massively successful

Penicillin was quickly augmented by several other classes of effective antibiotics- including cephalosporins which have become the largest class/sub-class of drugs used in clinical medicine. In 1948 Giuseppe’s Brotzu found that Cephalosporium acremonium produced antimicrobial properties like Penicillium spp. He subsequently worked with the Oxford team of Sir Edward Abraham and Guy Newton who characterised the compound together Hodgkin who produced the crystal structure. Brotzu’s Cephalosporin C would become one of the most important templates for drug discovery in the history of human medicine.

In his 1945 Nobel Prize lecture

Alexander Fleming spoke of the dangers of antibiotic ‘underdosage’ and warned that common bacteria could evolve to become resistant to the new wonder drugs- a phenomenon which indeed did quickly develop. Within a decade of these discoveries, a number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains spread among humans and animal populations around the globe and caused major epidemics- a process which is still ongoing.

Since the 1990s

Pharmaceutical business models have shifted to more profitable life-style drugs; consequently, and breakthrough antibiotics have failed to emerg to tackle the increasingly number of antibiotic pathogens. The IOI has been created to rejuvenate Oxford’s antimicrobial research, investing in the core science underpinning drug discovery to enable the next breakthroughs.

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