Longitude Prize: A year in and the race is still on

Written on 11 December 2015 by:
Tamar Ghosh
Tamar Ghosh

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As the first full year of the prize draws to an end, I wanted to sum up what we’ve achieved and what we hope for the next 12 months.

Events: Our 2015 tours

We hold events in different places to raise awareness of the Prize and try to encourage more individuals and teams to join the race.  This year we held such events in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, resulting in new teams from the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  There is much collaborative work going on in Northern Ireland and Scotland and we hope to see teams registering next year. We’re also working closely with our funding partner Innovate UK, to reach the regions of England and the nations, to make sure the prize is known in the many hubs of innovation across the UK.

Outside of the UK we’ve held events to attract competitors in Germany, China, India, Switzerland, the US and shortly Japan. 

These events have done well to attract new registrants to the prize. We end the year in a good position – 120 teams from 26 countries are working on their ideas, and of these 12 have already entered full submissions to win.

Next year our focus is on extending our reach across the U.S and consolidating on the contacts of teams and networks that we’ve already met, to maintain awareness and interest.

We couldn’t have put on these events without the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, their Science and Innovation Network, which is jointly funded by BIS, along with the FCO post health teams in India and China. They have helped us deliver events in fantastic venues, to broad audiences, meeting our important aim of enticing new approaches and new innovators into the challenge.  We’ve also been fortunate to have members of our Committee, Advisory Panel andAdvisors speak at these events, to attract the audiences.

Entries: Who’s competing?

Since the start of the year we’ve seen our first two submission deadlines – in May and thenSeptember.  Through these two deadlines we’ve seen 12 entries to win the Prize from the UK, US, Finland and Sweden.  These entries have met one of the big objectives of the Prize, attracting a broad range of entrants from industry, academia and innovators working on their own, and looking for collaboration.

A second objective has also been met through those groups: attracting a range of disciplines into the Prize, particularly those that haven’t worked in this area before. The teams that have entered to win represent physicists, engineers, materials scientists and chemists as well as biologists.

Finally, we’re starting to see a broadening in the range of ideas coming forwards – with a focus on both specific types of infection as well as tests focused on a range of infections.  The techniques have also started to broaden from the traditional methods, to more novel. We’re really excited to see what the next submission deadline of 31 January brings us.

Raising awareness: What do publics know about resistance?

Alongside attracting diverse teams into the Prize, to get the best possible entries, we also aim to add to the enormous amount of work being done in other areas of antibiotic resistance.  In the UK, specifically, given the public itself voted for the topic, we do a fair amount of work to try to improve awareness.

We have undertaken a survey to understand people’s awareness, understanding, and behaviours around antibiotics and resistance. This year we repeated our first study of 2014 and found some very interesting results.  Almost a third of people in the UK feel that antibiotics not working is the single biggest health threat to the UK.  At the same time we’ve seen improvements across the range of behaviours – with fewer people obtaining antibiotics from friends and family, taking unused antibiotics from old prescriptions, or buying them when overseas. We also saw a reduction in people who pressurise their GP’s to prescribe them antibiotics.  Behaviours are a crucial part of the work in reducing resistance, and a rapid, accurate point-of-care test that tells people if they have a viral or bacterial infection, and, if bacterial, informs the decision of which antibiotics to take, is likely to make a real difference. Certainly over 80% of our respondents told us that this would influence their decision to pressurise their GP.

On the digital sphere, we produced a data visualisation showing levels of resistance for five bacteria to various antibiotics across Europe. This was produced with data from the European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control and it has been by far our most popular piece of content, ranking second on most popular blogs for November on the Nesta website. We also produced infographics on bloodstream infections in England with data from Public Health England. Our Twitter account continues to grow, and we’re aiming to hit the 5,000 followers benchmark next year.

Plans: What does 2016 hold in store?

Next year we are hoping to build on our work in the UK, continuing to raise awareness, supporting the great work of the AMR Review, Fleming Fund, Research Councils, Department of Health, and Public Health England on different aspects of this problem. We’ll also try new and exciting ways to engage all audiences, including young people, in the issue. We’ll build on the fantastic links we’ve made to potential competitors across the UK and across the world, and encourage them to get involved. We plan to speak to our registered teams to understand the support they need, financial and non-financial, and start to launch programmes to deliver this.

Thank you!

A big thank you for the incredible support from the eminent group of scientists whose role is to provide governance for the Prize – the Longitude Committee, superbly chaired by Lord Martin Rees.  The Prize Advisory Panel, our cross discipline group of experts who judge the entries, co-Chaired by Dame Sally Davies and Baron Peter Piot, has done a fantastic job of reviewing the entries through so far, and we look forward to seeing many more at the submission deadlines to come. We’re also lucky to be supported by a growing band of Advisors from around the world helps to keep the team on track. Finally, with a Prize of this scale we have relied on a network of hundreds of partner organisations and individuals, who have helped us spread the word of the Prize to all corners of the world.

This blog originally appeared on the Longitude Prize website.