Federal Competition Seeks New Technology to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

To find the next great innovation to fight the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, the National Institutes of Health has announced the launch of a new federal prize competition dubbed the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge.

As antibiotic-resistant pathogens continue to rapidly develop new immunities to our medications, cutting edge research on how to understand and stop them is sorely needed. To find the next great innovation to fight the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced the launch of a new federal prize competition dubbed the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge.

The announcement issues a call for researchers around the country to submit innovative ideas for new, rapid, point-of-care laboratory diagnostic tests to combat the progression and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s a challenge backed by $20 million in prize money to be awarded for use in the development of much needed novel technology. The prize is sponsored by two parts of the US Department of Health and Human Services—the NIH and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)—with each office contributing $10 million to the prize in support of the Whitehouse’s National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that each year some 2 million people in the United States are infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatments, with at least 23,000 dying from those infections. The troubling rise of “superbugs” has driven up the number of hospitalizations, medical costs, and the death toll related to these hard-to-treat infections, creating what the World Health Organization calls one of the biggest threats to global health today.

In launching the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge, federal health officials hope to stem the spread of drug resistance in bacteria with better diagnostic tests that can be used to identify and characterize antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They also want tests that will distinguish between viral and bacterial infections to reduce unnecessary application of antibiotics in viral infections, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Overprescription of antibiotics is a major cause of drug resistance, and so by zeroing in on bacterial infections quickly, health experts say the number of unneeded antibiotics administered to patients can be greatly reduced. Currently, detecting pathogenic bacteria from patient samples can take two to three days using standard microbial culture tests. In that lag time, antibiotics are often administered to address illness without confirmation of the presence of a bacterial infection. In a recent study, CDC researchers determined that 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the United States each year are unnecessary; an excess of about 47 million of those prescriptions are given out annually, largely to fight viruses they can’t treat.

“The growing incidence of serious infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria presents a critical risk to the public health of our nation,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “My hope is that this competition will spur exceptional innovators to rise to the challenge and deliver effective tools to help manage this significant problem.”

Researchers interested in submitting their concepts to the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge must do so by January 9, 2017. For the first phase of the competition, the sponsors will select up to 20 semi-finalists and each will receive up to $50,000 to develop prototypes based on their idea. In the second phase, 10 finalists will be announced on December 3, 2018, and each will receive up to $100,000. Independent laboratories certified under the US Food and Drug Administration’s Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments will evaluate the prototypes. Up to three final winners who will share at least $18 million, will be announced on July 31, 2020.

Feature Picture Source: NIAID / flickr / Creative Commons.