A probiotic aimed at eliminating a disease which costs the world poultry industry $6 billion a year is being developed by a Lincoln/China collaboration in the fight against a global antibiotic crisis.
The disease - Clostridium perfringens - is currently controlled with antibiotics. But there is growing pressure to stop this method in the face of a rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans.
Dr Ron Dixon, a microbiologist at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Dr Joseph Brown from Arden Biotechnology, are working with the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China to develop the probiotic.
The project has been awarded a £1.5m prize by the Department of Health and Social Care's AMR Innovation Fund (GANRIF) to support the scheme, managed by Innovate UK, and help reduce the use of antibiotics in future generations.
Dr Ron Dixon, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: "The development of antibiotics has been vital to improving human health, yet the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to humans from possible transfer from animals and the environment is threatening to make them ineffective in the future.
"In the long term we are convinced that our partners in the UK poultry industry and new industrial partners along with Chinese academics will provide the wide and diverse range of expertise required to remove or reduce the threat of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in our food animals and impact public health."
Arden Biotechnology based at Lincoln Science & Innovation Park, is leading the UK team developing the probiotic. The biotech company was founded following a three-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the University and Arden Woodshavings, supported by Innovate UK.
Director of Research at Arden Biotechnology, Dr Joseph Brown, said: "This project builds on five years of research, initially at the University of Lincoln, to bring together a UK/Chinese consortium to successfully bring the product to market.
"The increase in our staff, access to expertise and equipment at the University of Lincoln, and collaboration with world-leading Chinese academics means we hope to launch this probiotic, initially to the Chinese poultry sector market, by 2022 before introducing it to the UK."
The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotic treatments add an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But in the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, overuse of antibiotics especially in agriculture and food animal production has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.
Dr Dixon's team together with Arden Biotechnology and innovation group EDPAL was one of 13 winners of the 2017 Discovery Awards, with only three others based in the UK. Each team awarded funding throughout the competition will progress to be assessed by the Longitude Committee (made up of leading experts from across the scientific and industrial world) until a winner of the £10m Longitude prize is chosen in 2020.
Dr Dixon has been researching the mode of action and resistance of antibiotics for many years, and fellow academics from Lincoln's Schools of Pharmacy, Life Sciences and Chemistry are also leading a study into the development of Teixobactin - a 'game-changing' new antibiotic capable of tackling superbugs without detectable resistance.