Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Solving Antibiotic Resistance - The Longitude Prize

Guest Blogger Tamar Ghosh

The Longitude Prize is the UK’s biggest science prize, a 5-year challenge with a £10 million prize fund, and a 300 year legacy.  It commemorates the anniversary of the Longitude Act of 1714, the first British challenge prize, which offered the public £20,000 to solve one of the biggest global problems of the time, determining longitude at sea.  It was eventually solved when a little-known carpenter, John Harrison, invented the first marine chronometer, H4, surprising the establishment which expected a solution to come from the field of  astronomy,.  This early achievement demonstrated an early principle of prizes that we have seen time and again: if you create a public challenge, of reputation and profile, a far wider group of innovators are likely to get involved in finding solutions to the problem.

 In 2014, this new Longitude Prize, instigated by the Astronomer Royal in the UK, Lord Martin Rees, was launched after a public vote that selected resistance to antibiotics as the equivalent global issue to be resolved.  It aims to conserve antibiotics for future generations, revolutionising global healthcare. It is looking to award one prize of £8m to a team that can develop a transformative, accurate, affordable, rapid, point of care diagnostic test that is easy to use, anywhere in the world. The Prize is being developed by Nesta, supported by Innovate UK, and is open to entrants from any country.  This global Prize has the support of the UK Prime Minister and will be awarded by the Longitude Committee chaired by Lord Martin Rees and including Dame Sally Davies, Baron Peter Piot and Professor Jeremy Farrar, among other luminaries.

So far we have 130 teams working on ideas from 29 countries, however we want to ensure the Prize is helping as many teams as possible enter the Prize from a range of countries, sectors and disciplines, and through new collaborations.  We already have a mix of entries from industry large and small, academia, individuals and many collaborations. However, we want to make sure everyone who is able to take part can do so, and to address some of the concerns we hear from current teams who have hit a barrier in the development of their ideas.

For this reason, on Monday 16th May we launched the Longitude Prize Discovery Awards.

These are small seed grants to help individuals or teams to further develop their ideas to win the Prize, hopefully enticing more of the greatest minds across the world to take part.  The total current fund for the Discovery Awards is just over £200,000.  From this total pot we will look to make grants of around £10,000, rising to maximum of £25,000 for exceptional ideas.  These are small grants and our teams tell us they are likely to use these to access labs for testing, evaluating the feasibility of their test in communities, securing expertise to help them to develop a business plan, or acquiring new specimens to develop their concept. We want to make as many awards as possible, and these may be very early stage ideas coming from very different areas of science. The current awards are being funded by GSK and by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in India. We hope the awards will attract more entries from the UK and around the world.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, has said of these Awards: “I'm delighted to see the launch of the Discovery Awards, providing support for teams that have great ideas to be further developed. We need the best minds in the UK and around the world to work on this and find us all a diagnostic that will help reduce the misuse of antibiotics.”

Applications for a Discovery Award can be submitted from 6pm BST 16th May until midnight on the 26th August BST, and awardees will be announced in late November.   

Applicants need to demonstrate that their overall idea is in the scope of the prize and that the activity they are putting forward for funding is feasible and will help them to move forward with their idea.  Some of the teams working on ideas have told us that by winning a Discovery Award they may be able to access far higher levels of funding, through reaching proof of concept or through credibility attached to this. .

We hope this will help us to broaden the range of innovators and innovations into the race, so we can make sure the equivalent of the present day John (and Jane) Harrisons do get involved.

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