A major boost of £1.76million will fund research designed to stop antibiotics failing, to help mitigate the rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

Professor Stefano Pagliara, at the University of Exeter, has received the award to advance his work on controlling the processes and biological mechanisms that cause antibiotics to fail, and can mean infectious diseases become life-threatening.

The money comes from the European Research Council’s Consolidator Grants, designed to help excellent scientists, who have 7 to 12 years’ experience after their PhDs, to pursue their most promising ideas. To qualify, applicants must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposal.

Antibiotics are commonly used in modern medicine, yet increasingly, bacteria have been evolving to become resistant, meaning the treatment does not work and infections can become deadly. Five million deaths worldwide are already associated with infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics every year. It has been predicted that such infections will be the leading cause of death by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a key priority for the World Health Organisation.

Professor Stefano Pagliara, of the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, said: “Antibiotic resistance threatens to be the next global pandemic, yet we still have a lot to learn about why antibiotics fail. This critical funding will advance our research which investigates why antibiotics cannot enter in some bacteria leading to antibiotic resistance, and find new molecules that help antibiotics getting into bacteria.”

Professor Pagliara’s project is entitled DYNamics of antiBIOTICS transport in individual bacteria (DYNBIOTICS). It will pose a stepping stone towards the development of more effective antibiotic therapies by discovering new strategies to make drugs accumulate at lethal levels in all individuals within bacterial populations and cure infections.

Professor Pagliara is one of 321 researchers to have won 2022 European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grants. The funding – worth in total €657 million – is part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin said: “ERC Consolidator grants support researchers at a crucial time of their careers, strengthening their independence, reinforcing their teams and helping them establish themselves as leaders in their fields. And this backing above all gives them a chance to pursue their scientific dreams.”