Interview: Tackling Antibiotic Resistance

06 August 2018

Since their introduction in the 1940s, we have grown used to treating infection with a diverse array of antibiotics. However, at least in part through their overuse and misuse, growing resistance to existing treatment regimens is raising the alarming prospect of a post-antibiotic era in which even the mildest of infections becomes untreatable. With increased awareness of this growing problem, renewed interest from industry and academia has led to a resurgence in antimicrobial drug discovery, with the exciting prospect of innovative new technologies and approaches to combat infection. 

Coinciding with World Antibiotics Awareness Week, the 2nd SCI/RSC Symposium on Antimicrobial Drug Discovery will take place Monday 12 to Tuesday 13 November 2018 at SCI HQ in London.  Jointly organised by SCI’s Fine Chemicals Group and RSC’s Biological and Medicinal Chemistry Sector, an exciting speaker programme will showcase some of the emerging strategies that are being developed to tackle infection.

Speaker Wes Kim from US-based The Pew Charitable Trusts explains some of the challenges and opportunities in developing new antimicrobials.

Pills in dish

What are the biggest challenges to developing effective antibiotics in the 21st Century?

Nearly every antibiotic in use today is based on a discovery made more than 30 years ago. At the root of this decades-long drought in antibiotic innovation are key scientific questions – the answers to which have evaded scientists for decades. Chief among these questions is how to find and design molecules that can penetrate gram-negative bacteria – amongst the toughest superbugs – whilst also evading their efflux mechanisms and maintaining high intracellular concentrations. Answering these questions will require improved tools to accurately measure drug penetration and kinetics.

What role do you see for academic–industry partnerships in advancing antimicrobial drug discovery?

No single entity or sector will be able to address the challenges of antibiotic discovery alone. Academic-industry collaborations and other types of targeted, multidisciplinary basic science research efforts that leverage the respective strengths of different organisations – outlined in Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery, a Pew report – will be essential to facilitating the scientific breakthroughs needed in the search for new types of antibiotics and novel therapies.

test tubesImage: TNS Sofres/Flickr

And what about open innovation drug discovery programmes led by NGOs?

NGOs are uniquely positioned to help drive drug discovery through open collaboration and information-sharing approaches. Pew is launching SPARK – Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research & Knowledge – a pre-competitive, cloud-based platform enabling scientists across sectors and disciplines to share and analyse data, identify trends, and generate hypotheses to better understand how to more effectively combat gram-negative bacteria.

What measures can we as individuals take to reduce the rate of resistance generation?

In any setting, antibiotic use contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. To help slow the emergence of resistance, these drugs should be used appropriately, and only when necessary. Yet antibiotics are often prescribed inappropriately across health care settings in the US – roughly one in three antibiotic prescriptions written in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and hospital-based clinics are unnecessary. Individuals can help slow the emergence of antibiotic resistance by being informed and asking questions at their doctor’s office.

Lister Memorial Lecture 2016 Dame Sally Davies. Video: SCI

What advice would you give to government to help combat antibiotic resistance?

Governments have been, and continue to be, essential leaders in the global effort to combat antibiotic resistance. Success in the fight against superbugs requires sustained efforts and commitment from governments around the world, both in funding and implementing their respective national plans for combating antibiotic resistance, and in driving international collaboration among all stakeholders. Antibiotic resistance is a threat to people everywhere, and combating the growing problem must remain a top global priority.

For more information and registration visit:

wes kim


Wes Kim is a Senior Officer at the Antibiotic Resistance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. His work is focused on driving innovation in antibiotic resistance, concentrating on research and policies that can help advance antibiotic discovery and development. 


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