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C-EENRG and the Cambridge Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences receive competitive grant to investigate collective action problems underpinning Anti-Microbial Resistance

last modified Dec 21, 2019 11:49 AM

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest public health emergencies of our time. 

AMR is an evolutionary process whereby microbes —like bacteria, fungi, and viruses— acquire resistance to the antimicrobial substances we have long depended upon to stop their spread, including antibiotics, antifungals, and antivirals. The likelihood of drug resistance increases every time microbes are exposed to antimicrobial substances, and 80 years of antimicrobial use in global medicine and agriculture has accelerated the development of AMR. Much is now at stake. If global efforts are not properly mobilized, we risk losing the ability to treat even the most basic of infections associated with caesareans, dental treatment, chemotherapy, surgery, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, not to mention infectious disease epidemics.

The challenge with AMR is that it is a ‘collective action problem’:  multiple individuals would all benefit substantially from a certain action (conserving existing antimicrobials, reducing infection, developing novel antimicrobials, avoiding an antimicrobial resistance problem getting out-of-hand), meaning the ideal solution is to work on the problem as a collective action, the cost of which is shared. But such action has an associated cost that is not necessarily borne proportionately or predictably, meaning there is a tendency for individuals to lean towards free-riding. The up-shot is that AMR is a collective action problem that cannot be fully mitigated at the level of individual organisations nor at the national level nor through UN desiderata. Tackling AMR requires inter-organisation, regional, global and multi-sectoral action backed up by effective incentives and sanctions.

This is the challenge that Dr Kathy Liddell (Cambridge’s Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences) and Professor Jorge E. Vinuales (C-EENRG) will be tackling, in cooperation with Professor Dame Sally Davies (Master of Trinity College, Cambridge), Professor Steven Hoffman (Global Strategy Lab., York University, Toronto), Professor Timo Minssen (CeBIL, University of Copenhagen) and Professor Kevin Outterson (Boston University), with support from a grant from the Cambridge International Research Strategy Working Group.

The project, entitled ‘Developing International Research to Address the Collective Action Problems of Anti-Microbial Resistance: CAP-AMR’, has secured substantial funding for the first year as well as match funding from partner organizations for additional activities.