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Antibiotic resistance focus of UK Longitude Prize

The people have spoken. Antibiotic resistance has been voted by the UK public as the subject of the government’s £10-million (US$17-million) Longitude Prize — an initiative aimed at tackling society’s greatest issues.

Competing teams will now have five years to create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections to win the prize. The organizers hope that such a test will help health workers to better target the use of antibiotics, which will prevent the rise of drug-resistant strains.

Bacteria’s growing resistance to life-saving antibiotics was the subject of a stark warning by the World Health Organization, leading to calls (including by Nature) to create an intergovernmental panel to tackle the issue.

In the public vote, collected on the webpage of the BBC2 television show Horizon, the issue beat challenges involving food, water scarcity, climate change, paralysis and dementia to become the focus of the prize.

This autumn the prize organizers, the Longitude Committee and London-based innovation charity Nesta, will publish the criteria entrants must fulfil, following consultation with the scientific community. Groups with “creditable ideas” will be invited to review sessions throughout the five years, starting in autumn 2015.

Launched by UK Prime Minister David Cameron last year and opened for public voting last month, the initiative is named after a competition the British government launched 300 years ago, and has parallels with modern ‘challenge prizes’, such as those administered by the Culver City, California-based X-Prize Foundation.

Writing in Nature last month, chairman of the Longitude Committee, Martin Rees, said that he hoped both the prize fund and publicity generated by a well-designed prize would “unleash investment from many quarters, amounting to much more than the prize itself”. (Philip Campbell, Nature‘s editor-in-chief, is also a member of the prize committee.)


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    R Colin Garner said:

    It’s good that antibiotic resistance came top of the poll since resistance will impact current clinical practice including cancer treatment, hip and knee replacements etc. Antibiotic resistant infections occur most frequently in the very young and very old. I am concerned to read that the prize money is to be used to develop a diagnostic test for antibiotic resistant bacteria. I believe developing new drugs to treat infections is of more importance since few drugs have been developed over the past 10 years. I hope the Longitude prize committee will be open to novel approaches other than developing a new diagnostic important as this is.

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