Trinity’s incoming Master, Professor Dame Sally Davies, hopes that her new role as UK Special Envoy on antimicrobial resistance will showcase female leadership at a global level and demonstrate the diversity of the College community.
‘It will also show what Trinity can offer the world, and the positive impact we have,’ said Dame Sally, who is currently Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and will be formally installed as Master of Trinity on 8 October 2019.
Dame Sally is a consultant haematologist specialising in Sickle cell disease, who has been CMO for nine years – the first woman in the job, and the most senior government advisor on health matters.
In addition to establishing the National Institute for Health Research in 2016 – today the most comprehensive health research system in the world – Dame Sally is known for her work on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the UK and internationally.
AMR occurs when bugs that cause infections evolve to survive the treatments used against them. Nearly a century after Alexander Fleming’s isolation of penicillin – ushering in the era of modern antibiotics and transforming medicine – AMR is an increasingly serious threat to public health.
‘The more antibiotics we use, the more resistant genes and bacteria that emerge, and the selection and proliferation of these antibiotic resistant bacteria increase, leading to higher rates of difficult to treat, resistant infections,’ says Dame Sally.
It is an issue which threatens so much human activity, most obviously modern medicine. Much of the progress we have made in medicine over the last century is down to the existence of antimicrobials, specifically antibiotics. Caesarean section, routine operations, joint replacements, chemotherapy, general cancer care, and cystic fibrosis care all depend on the ability to prevent and treat infection through antibiotics.
In the UK alone three million operations and cancer treatments would become life threatening without antibiotics. ‘Without action, AMR is predicted to cause 10 million deaths worldwide per year by 2050, that’s more than cancer,’ says Dame Sally.
As UK Special Envoy Dame Sally will maintain the momentum she has built globally – after galvanizing the UK Government to take action, she brought the issue to the international stage, resulting in a World Health Organization resolution in 2015 and a UN Declaration in 2016.
Most recently, I was co-convenor of a UN Group which has just delivered its recommendations to the UN Secretary General on what the world needs to do now – and there is still a lot to do to address this threat.
AMR not only threatens modern medicine – it affects food security because antibiotics are used to treat animals as well as humans. The World Bank predicts 28 million people could be driven into extreme poverty by AMR if we take ineffective action, says Dame Sally. ‘It is a cross-sectoral issue – we need action in human, animal, and environmental health, by governments, NGOs, and the private sector.’
Her role as Special Envoy continues a tradition for Masters of Trinity, as for many members of the College, of taking a leading role in public service and applying their expertise to the public good.
By pioneering a new class of drugs for autoimmune diseases and cancer, Trinity’s outgoing Master, Sir Gregory Winter, has transformed lives worldwide and revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry. For his work on phages, which led him to develop humanised antibodies, Sir Gregory shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
As a leading woman in science, Dame Sally’s election as Master is a significant milestone for Trinity, which is reaching out to prospective female students through its Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) residentials.
This is an issue she feels strongly about.
After I set up the National Institute for Health Research, I made it a condition of funding eligibility that institutions had to have an Athena SWAN silver award, which is helping to drive gender parity. I also do a lot of mentoring and have given many talks on the subject.
I hope that my work will give Trinity visibility and, by showcasing female leadership at a global level, demonstrate the diversity of the Trinity community.