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Scientific Top Training in Antimicrobial Research

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AIMMS STAR-PLUS (Scientific Top Training in Antimicrobial Research)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

The problem and its importance for society
The introduction of antimicrobial drugs in the mid-to-late 20th century has saved the lives and eased the suffering
of many millions of people globally. In recent years microbial resistance to these antimicrobial drugs has emerged
and now means that once treatable infections are fast becoming refractory to multiple types of antimicrobial
drugs. The development of antimicrobial resistance is no longer the theoretical threat it once was – in the EU
alone, multidrug-resistant bacteria appear to be responsible for more than 25,000 deaths per year with
associated healthcare costs running into many billions of Euros. This issue is now so serious that the European
Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) now consider
antimicrobial resistance to be a major health threat in Europe in the 21st century.
Resistance is most prominent in bacterial pathogens. Over 60% of healthy individuals are estimated to carry some
sort of resistant bacteria on their skin and in their gastrointestinal tracts. A particular concern is that these
strains may spread to vulnerable hospitalized patients and result in previously treatable secondary infections
becoming major health risks. Reports of development of resistance to so-called ‘antibiotics of last resort’ are rare
currently but illustrate the seriousness of this developing situation. According to the ECDC and the European
Medicines Organisation (EMA) most of the antibiotics presently used for common infections will likely become
useless within five to ten years, turning back the clock to the pre-antibiotic era.
Antimicrobial resistance is not limited to bacteria. Effective antiviral drugs are a more recent development in
comparison to antibiotics. However, single- and/or multidrug-resistant strains of human influenza virus, herpes
simplex virus and HIV have sporadically been reported, which suggests a bleak future perspective in this domain if
novel antivirals are not developed. Among the parasitic protozoa, resistance of malaria parasites to antimalarial
drugs is frequently observed and constitutes a major health issue. Resistance represents the single biggest hurdle
to the control of malaria and is leading to the resurgence of malaria in many parts of the world, in particular in
developing countries.
In spite of this ominous outlook, industrial investments in antibacterial research and product development are
declining. From a business point of view antibacterial drugs lack the typical characteristics associated with
successful drugs, since their use is restricted to certain patients and short treatment periods. Consequently, most
large pharmaceutical companies seem to be withdrawing from the antibacterial field. The MedTRACK database,
which tracks developments in pharmaceutical pipelines, indicates that fewer than 50 small- and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs) are currently developing antibacterial lead compounds. Perspectives for the development of
new antibacterial drugs with novel mechanisms of action are limited even though the threat to health posed by
antibacterial resistance is so clear. The situation is somewhat less grim for the antiviral field, but here too resistance is a growing problem, and there is a realistic threat of exotic viruses, such as the 2014-2015 Ebola
epidemic in West Africa, which also affected the Western world through increasing global mobility.

It is clear that antimicrobial resistance is a global challenge and that joint and coordinated efforts are required to
address unmet medical needs and future emergence of resistant pathogens. This multifaceted problem
demands measures from many sectors of society including policy makers, health care providers, academia, and
industry. Action is needed on multiple fronts including new approaches to the prevention and treatment of
infections, novel drugs and diagnostic tools, improved molecular surveillance, modelling and prediction of t
We have selected 4 talented early-stage researchers in innovative selection rounds in which they wrote their own project
The expected impact points of our project were:
• Enhancing research- and innovation-related human resources, skills and working conditions to realise the potential of individuals and to provide new career perspectives
For this point we anticipated that after finalisation of the PhD project the newly delivered PhDs will be highly motivated, well-trained, multi-facetted researchers that will be able to continue their career in a highly innovative, promising, essential field that is of great importance to society.
• The programme will have an impact on aligning practices at participating organisations with principles set out by the EU for the human resources development in research and innovation
For this point we constructed our programme in line with the principles set out by the EU in its Horizon 2020 and MSCA Actions. This was expected to ensure that all Master’s candidates eventually will benefit from the STAR PLUS programme and complies with the European Charter and Code for Researchers. Our programme set out to further establish mobility of the selected PhD candidates and enhance scientific collaboration between the partners in the consortium and beyond.