About CIHR’s Antimicrobial Resistance Initiatives

Antimicrobial resistance is recognized internationally as an emerging health crisis that threatens to undermine our ability to control bacterial infections. The complacency generated by the success of antibiotics has led to their widespread overuse and misuse, accelerating the generation of multi-drug resistance. Once known mainly to researchers, resistant microbes like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and Clostridium difficile have entered the public consciousness, and pose a serious health threat. If the spread of antimicrobial resistance is not checked, and if new methods for treating bacterial infections are not found, we face returning to a pre-antibiotic-like era. Antimicrobial resistance has been a research priority of the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity (III) since its inception, and a number of strategic research initiatives have been launched to address this global health problem by promoting and supporting research related to mechanisms and processes that impact the emergence and spread of resistance , including with the Safe Food and Water initiative, the Novel Alternatives to Antibiotics (NAA) initiative, the Canada-UK Partnership on Antibiotic Resistance, and most recently the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR).

Canadian Research Coalition for Safe Food and Water

The Institute of Infection and Immunity (III) spearheaded the formation of the Canadian Research Coalition for Safe Food and Water in 2001 by inviting members of Canada’s food and water research and industry sectors to a workshop to develop a national food and water safety research agenda. Participants at this initial workshop formed the Canadian Research Coalition for Safe Food and Water which was formalized in October 2002. The Coalition is made up of 17 partners and has the goal of building a national, coordinated research agenda in the area of microbial contamination of food and water and antimicrobial resistance in the food chain. The Coalition has supported the launch of two research initiatives: Microbial Safety of Food and Water-Needs, Gaps and Opportunities Assessment, launched in May 2002; and Microbial Contamination of Food and Water and Antimicrobial Resistance in the Food Chain, Phase II – Establishing a Framework, launched in November 2002. III also supported one project in collaboration with the Canadian Water Network through the Integrated Disinfectant Strategy Optimization program which focuses on the disinfection of Canada’s drinking water.

Novel Alternatives to Antibiotics Initiative

The NAA Funding Opportunity was designed to augment the existing research funding available through the CIHR open competitions by attracting applications focused on novel approaches to antibiotic resistance, including research areas such as phage therapy or probiotics in which Canada had little or no research capacity. The Funding Opportunity, launched in partnership with 26 private and public sector partners resulted in the funding of seven Seed Grants, two Fellowships, one Proof of Principle Award, two Collaborative Health Research Projects and eight Emerging Team Grants for a total investment of more than $13 million. Several of the funded projects were in the previously underserved area of bacteriophage research.

Canada-UK Partnership on Antibiotic Resistance

A partnership was initiated with the UK. In July 2007, the Canadian High Commission in London hosted a series of meetings between III, the Wellcome Trust and the UK MRC to explore opportunities for international partnership. The result was a Canada/UK workshop, organized by the UKMRC, III, and the Canadian High Commission which took place in London on February 6th and 7th, 2008. More than 40 participants were invited with roughly half being from the UK and half from Canada. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together researchers with different perspectives on the problem of antibiotic resistance in order to address topics such as immune modulation, molecular determinants of resistance, clinical aspects, and systems biology approaches. The objective was to assess whether there would be genuine gains through facilitating the creation and support of UK/Canadian partnerships between researchers with complementary expertise and whether such collaborations would result in improved mechanisms to address the problem of antibiotic resistance. The full workshop report is available on the Institute website.

Canada-UK Catalyst Grant

The enthusiasm generated at the workshop translated into the joint CIHR-III and UK-MRC launch in December 2008 of a one-year Catalyst Grant competition. The intent was to promote the development of UK-Canadian basic and translational research collaborations in the area of antibiotic resistance, and to provide the funds necessary for strategy development in preparation for potential, larger funding opportunities in this area. Two Canada-UK projects were supported through the Catalyst Grant opportunity: “Bilateral bacterial cell wall biosynthesis network”, Anthony Clarke (University of Guelph) and Christopher Dowson (University of Warwick); and Antibiotic Resistance Research Pipeline, Gerard Wright (McMaster University) and Laura Piddock (University of Birmingham).

Canada-UK Consortium Grant Funding Opportunity

In September 2010 CIHR-III and the UK-MRC launched the Team Grant: Canada-UK Partnership on Antibiotic Resistance funding opportunity. The goal of this program was to build on existing collaborations between Canada and the UK in this field and provide four years of support for relevant teams. The work of Drs Clarke and Dowson and their work on cell wall biosynthesis once again received support, as did the “Canada-UK team in bacterial resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics”, led by Dr. Gary Dmitrienko (University of Waterloo) and Dr. T. Walsh (University of Cardiff). Funding for these teams began in April 2011. In February 2013, a workshop was jointly organized by the Canadian High Commission, CIHR, and the UK Health Protection Agency, entitled: Translational Strategies to Combat Antibiotic Resistance. This workshop was attended by Canadian and British researchers in the field of AMR.

Translational Strategies to Combat Antibiotic Resistance: A Call to Action

Many countries are now ramping up their strategies to combat antibiotic resistance and international partnerships are emerging to promote value-added collaborations in a multifaceted, multidisciplinary approach to the problem. One example is the Canada/UK partnership on antibiotic resistance that stemmed from a bilateral workshop held in 2008. The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) have joined forces to support two large Canada/ UK teams in which UK and Canadian researchers are combining their expertise to focus on translational strategies to combat antibiotic resistance.

In February 2013, the Canadian High Commission hosted a second workshop in partnership with CIHR and the UK Health Protection Agency (now a part of Public Health England), entitled: “Translational Strategies to Combat Antibiotic Resistance: A Call to Action.” This workshop brought together UK and Canadian biomedical and public health researchers with industry representatives to promote information exchange and networking. The workshop also provided an opportunity for the generation of joint strategies for collaborative action in tackling antibiotic resistance. The two-day workshop was comprised of a combination of overview presentations, case studies and small breakout discussions focused on:

  • Antibiotic stewardship
  • Conventional therapies
  • New approaches

The full workshop report is available on the Institute website.

Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR)

CIHR-III has recently been appointed as a full member and co-lead of the 19 member European Union and associated countries Joint Programming Initiative "on Antimicrobial Resistance" (JPIAMR). In January 2014 the JPIAMR launched its first Joint Call “InnovaResistance: Innovative Approaches to address antibacterial resistance” to support international collaborations that combine complementary and synergistic research strengths. This JPIAMR call is expected to facilitate the generation and application of new approaches to overcome antibiotic resistance and to co-ordinate research that will lead to sustainable use of antibiotics to treat infectious diseases. CIHR has committed $6M over three years for this call to support teams led by Canadian researchers. Through Canada’s participation in the JPIAMR, Canadian researchers will join international colleagues in the development of large international teams that will form the necessary critical mass and develop the most advanced scientific approaches to tackle the problem of AMR. CIHR’s role in this initiative speaks to Canada’s unique research strengths and highlights the international leadership role that Canada has adopted in this area.

News release: Government of Canada supports world-class research on antimicrobial resistance – Vancouver, BC, April 13, 2015

Health portfolio actions on antimicrobial resistance

Under the Minister of Health, the Government of Canada works to protect Canadians from the risks of increasing antimicrobial resistance. The federal government is leading activities to prevent, limit and control the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals and food. It works with others, communicates information about antimicrobial resistance, and promotes research and innovation that protect public health.

Health portfolio actions on antimicrobial resistance

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