Antimicrobial resistance: tackling the global challenge

It’s commonly known that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928. However, what is not as well-known is the research conducted by scientists at the University of Sheffield into the drug which has gone on to save more than 82 million lives.


In 1930 the first documented use of penicillin as a therapy was carried out in Sheffield by Cecil George Paine, a member of the University’s Pathology Department. He treated an eye infection in two babies with a crude filtrate from a penicillin-producing mould supplied by his lecturer, Alexander Fleming, whilst studying at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London.

Fleming had published details of his fundamental discovery of penicillin as an antibacterial agent in 1929, but its therapeutic potential had not been pursued. Paine however mentioned his findings to Fleming and Howard Florey – the Professor of Pathology at Sheffield Medical School (1932-35).

Along with a team from Oxford, Sir Howard Florey went on to purify penicillin – conducting the first clinical trial of the drug in 1941 which resulted in him being jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1953.

The Florey Institute

Now, over 75 years later and inspired by Howard Florey’s pioneering work, the University of Sheffield’s Florey Institute is addressing one of the world’s biggest biomedical challenges – infectious disease.

Set within the context of emerging antibiotic resistance, Florey scientists study the complex interaction between pathogens and their host. By working together with collaborative partners, Florey is bridging the gap between science and patient care to tackle the global threat to human healthcare.

Professor Simon Foster, Florey Coordinator at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are taking an interdisciplinary approach to understand how infectious organisms cause disease, from the fundamental to translational levels. It is by the close interaction between basic scientists and clinicians that new discoveries can be applied to give novel interventions with positive outcomes for human healthcare.

“We are revealing the mechanisms that underpin growth and division of pathogenic bacteria and using this new information to inform the use of existing antibiotics and aiding the design of novel therapies.”

Antibiotics have been a crucial weapon in the fight against bacterial infections, but their overuse and misuse has created a new challenge in antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria and other microbes become resistant to the effects of antimicrobials.

This is complicating treatments for diseases such as Staphylococcus aureus, HIV and malaria, and drug resistant infections are already causing up to 50,000 deaths each year in Europe and the USA alone.

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.