Peter Hawkey started his scientific career as a plant pathologist working on Gleosporium perrenans a fungal storage pathogen of pathogen in apples at East Malling Research Station. A longstanding attraction to medical microbiology following a research post in 1971 at Kings College Hospital prompted enrolment for a medical degree. Experience as a junior doctor looking after patients with the superbug of the 1970’s, gentamicin resistant, Klebsiella pneumoniae kindled a life-long interest in the mechanism and evolution of plasmid mediated resistance to antibiotics in gram negative bacteria.
Recruitment as a lecturer at the University of Bristol to work on gentamicin resistant Providencia stuartii resulted in a higher degree studying transposition immunity and composite transposon formation in vivo mediated by Tn3. This thesis supervised by Peter Bennett and Sir Mark Richmond, the MRCPath being obtained concurrently.
Due to lack of promotion opportunities in Bristol a move to work with Richard Lacey in Leeds as Senior Lecturer and subsequently a personal chair in 1992 facilitated the development of his research group which worked on molecular evolution of plasmids and antibiotic resistance genes in Enterobacteriaceae, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and acinetobacter. The early application in 1989 of PCR to M. tuberculosis led to a further research area resulting in the development of clinical diagnostics for TB using PCR and rapid PCR-based typing techniques for M. tuberculosis.
An invitation to run a workshop in Guangzhou, China in 1997 led to the characterisation and first description of the gene encoding second most common CTX-M Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamase (ESBL) in the world, CTX-M-14. His longstanding interest in the evolution and development of antibiotic resistance in China and the Far East has resulted in a number of important publications in the arena of molecular epidemiology of antibiotic resistance.
A move to the chair of public health and clinical bacteriology, which was newly established jointly by the University of Birmingham, HPA and Heart of England Foundation Trust, enabled more extensive development of research on the molecular epidemiology of M. tuberculosis, the environmental flow and evolution of antibiotic resistance genes in collaboration with the University of Warwick and the antibiotic research group founded by Professor Laura Piddock.
Peter’s group was the first to describe the existence of variable number tandem repeat DNA elements within the Staphylococcus aureus genome and to exploit those variable elements for rapid molecular typing to identify cases of cross-infection in patients. The application of the same technology to Clostridium difficile has led to research work on sub-typing of the dominant clones of Clostridium difficile in the UK and to chairing the Department of Health working party producing the definitive guidance on the control and management of Clostridium difficile infections for England.
A similar role has been filled in relation to ESBL and carbapenemase producing Enterobacteriaceae for the DoH through the Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections (ARHAI) of which Peter was a founder member.
For the last 20 years Peter has researched extensively on the subject of antibiotic resistance in South East Asia particularly through collaborative projects with colleagues in China and is visiting Professor at Xiangya Hospital, South Central University, Changsha. He is currently involved in shaping UK national policy on nosocomial infection control and antibiotic resistance by chairing and participating in expert groups and committees in the UK and Europe.