Can Scotland win the Longitude Prize?

11 Feb 2015

Written by Morbhen Rattray

In 1928, Alexander Fleming – the famous Scottish microbiologist from Darvel, East Ayreshire – found mould that had grown accidentally in a Petri dish  had killed disease-causing bacteria. This substance he called penicillin. It was a ‘miracle drug’ that along with its related antibiotic discoveries has saved millions of lives.

In 2015 the urgent challenge that is now facing humanity is to conserve the effectiveness of antibiotics made possible by Fleming’s discovery and on which the foundations of modern medicine are built. Last year the British public selected this challenge as the focus on the £10m Longitude Prize.

In 1945, Fleming – alongside Howard Walter Florey and Ernst Boris Chain – claimed the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  In 2020 (or sooner) could their also be a Scottish winner of the Longitude Prize? This was the question we posed at Nesta’s spotlight event in Dundee on January 28th

What was the event?

At the University of Dundee’s spectacular new Discovery Centre, Nesta’s Spotlight on the Longitude Prize, in partnership with BioDundee[i], brought together some of Scotland’s leading thinkers and experts to discuss how we can tackle the problem of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) and to discuss why Scotland, and Dundee in particular, is well-placed to win the Longitude Prize.

The speaker’s expertise reflected a part of the complex puzzle of potential remedies that must be developed for the world to conserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for future generations.

We heard from Professor Mike Ferguson, Regius Professor of Life Sciences and Associate Dean for Research Strategy at the University of Dundee who outlined the problem of AMR. Dr Camilla Wiuff – Strategic Lead, Microbiology at Health Protection Scotland – outlined what Scotland is doing to slow down the growth of resistance; We then heard from Dr. Miroslav Ravic, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Science Officer & Chief Medical Officer, MGB Biopharma and Dr Till Bachmann, Reader in Personalised Medicine in Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh, who explained the importance of new anti-infective drugs and rapid, affordable point-of-care diagnostics (the subject of the Longitude Prize) respectively. The final talk came from the award winning Professor Andrew Hopkins, Chair of Medicinal Informatics and SULSA Research Professor of Translational Biology, University of Dundee and the CEO of Ex Scientia – who explored the history of the Longitude Prize and the role of challenge prizes in spurring innovation in life-sciences.

Could a Dundonian win the Longitude Prize?

Walking into the new Discovery Centre (for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research), supported by over £31million of research grants, it is easy to believe that a winning team could hail from Dundee.

The Discovery Centre will further enhance the capacity of Dundee’s internationally -renowned life sciences sector. The University is currently the leading University in the UK for drug discovery[ii]. The Life Sciences industry a key driver for Dundee’s economy, employing over 4000 people in the sector and it is home to 18% of Scotland’s life science companies.

Of course, Dundee is not the only centre for life sciences expertise in Scotland with cutting-edge life-science technologies being developed in Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow and further afield but there is one thing we can be sure of – the nation that helped discovered antibiotics is well-paced to be the nation that saves them.


[i] BioDundee continues to work to increase the profile of life sciences in Dundee and encourage growth of the biotechnology industry in the city, ensuring that biotechnology in Dundee realises its full potential.