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Emerging Leaders Prize celebrates AMR research leaders of the future

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Winners of the Medical Research Foundation’s third annual Emerging Leaders Prize have been announced, with £200,000 awarded to outstanding scientists who are making a significant impact in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Through our Emerging Leaders Prize we’re looking for scientists on a trajectory to do something unique and special in their field, and that’s undoubtedly the case with our prize-winners.
Angela Hind PhD
Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation

Antibiotics transformed healthcare in the 20th Century and are still considered one of the great medical achievements of the era. However, in the 21st Century, antibiotic overuse and misuse has led to antibiotics rapidly becoming ineffective.

AMR, and specifically antibiotic resistance, poses a global threat to human life, requiring urgent action to halt resistance and to accelerate new treatments for bacterial infection. Already, drug-resistant infections are estimated to cause 700,000 deaths each year globally. That figure is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050, alongside a cumulative cost of $100 trillion, if no action is taken.

AMR impacts all countries and all people, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, routine medical procedures also become very high risk.

The more well-established threat of antibiotic resistance is mirrored by the emergence of resistance to antifungal treatments, which could lead to disease outbreaks and affect food security around the world.

Angela Hind PhD, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation, said: “We support exciting new research where there is high clinical need, and the increasingly serious threat of drug resistant infections to human lives clearly fits the bill. Through our Emerging Leaders Prize we’re looking for scientists on a trajectory to do something unique and special in their field, and that’s undoubtedly the case with our prize-winners. The prize fund is flexible, meaning the winners decide how best to use it. That could mean spending some time in a lab overseas, buying a cutting-edge piece of technology for their research, or investing in their personal career development.

“We hope this prize will be transformative for our winners’ research and provide a springboard for the next stage of their careers.”


From left-to-right: Dr David Eyre; Dr Myrsini Kaforou; Dr Tihana Bicanic; Dr Alison Mather.

The 2019 Emerging Leaders Prize-winners are as follows:

1st place, £100,000 prize
Dr Myrsini Kaforou, Imperial College London

Dr Kaforou will study the pattern of genes that are ‘switched on and off’ in patients with fever to find the best gene combination that distinguishes between a range of infectious and inflammatory conditions. This approach will identify patients who genuinely need antibiotic treatment, limiting antibiotic misuse and further development of AMR.

“I am delighted to receive this prize”, said Dr Kaforou. “It will allow me to acquire gene expression data from a large cohort of patients with a range of diseases, which will enhance our data-driven approach and assist our efforts in identifying the best gene markers to inform the development of diagnostic tests. Not only will this be transformative for my research, but it will also increase my visibility and support me to achieve my long-term aim of using cutting-edge technology to benefit patient care.”

2nd place, £90,000 prize
Dr Tihana Bicanic, St George’s University of London

Dr Bicanic’s research will focus on the most common cause of fungal sepsis in UK patients, a bloodstream infection called Candidaemia. Through a network of London hospitals, she will study the emergence and mechanism of resistance to commonly used antifungal drugs during treatment of Candidaemia, with the ultimate goal of identifying and testing treatment strategies that will prevent this.

Dr Bicanic said: “This prize is a great honour and supports a key missing link in my research: a bioinformatician to analyse sequenced fungal genomes, which will improve our understanding of the genetic underpinnings of antifungal resistance, and could lead to strategies for earlier detection and better prevention of fungal resistance.”

Runner-up, £5,000 prize
Dr David Eyre, University of Oxford

Dr Eyre will develop diagnostic tests, based on DNA sequencing, to detect antibiotic resistance in patients with sepsis and other serious infections. By offering faster diagnosis and giving patients earlier access to the right treatment, this could save lives and prevent the spread of resistance by avoiding over-use of antibiotics.

Dr Eyre said: “Using this prize fund I will further develop state-of-the-art approaches to detecting infection, which are faster than traditional methods that rely on waiting for bacteria to grow in the lab. In collaboration with my colleagues at the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, I will also combine these approaches with artificial intelligence techniques to predict which patients are most at risk of antibiotic resistance, and to pick the best antibiotics to use.”

Runner-up, £5,000 prize
Dr Alison Mather, Quadram Institute Bioscience

Dr Mather is a Group Leader and Food Standards Agency Fellow at the Quadram Institute, where she studies the evolution, origins and transmission of AMR and bacterial pathogens. Dr Mather takes a ‘One Health’ approach to AMR, using genomics to identify the contributions of humans, animals, food and the environment to the burden of AMR.

“It’s a real honour to be included amongst this amazing group of researchers. I am grateful to the Medical Research Foundation for this opportunity to develop new international collaborations and explore new directions for our research. AMR is a global problem and we need to work in partnership across disciplines and borders in order to understand how we can reduce the impact of resistant microbes”, said Dr Mather.

These prizes have been made possible thanks to a legacy gift from Johanne Menage and her husband, the late Professor Victor Menage, as well as a grant from Shionogi B.V.

If you’d like to help us support even more outstanding researchers – whether it be through making a personal gift, taking part in one of our fundraising challenge events, or by leaving a gift in your Will – you can find out more on our fundraising pages.

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The yearly number of deaths thought to be caused by drug-resistant infections worldwide.