He’s been saying it for years: if we don’t get a grip on antibiotics resistance, and spur pharmaceutical innovation, we could find ourselves in deep, even apocalyptic, trouble. Common infections and minor wounds that have been treatable for half a century could once again prove fatal. Certain strains of tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia, and gonorrhea are already showing serious signs of resistance. In the United States alone, more than 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Antibiotic resistance is a slow-moving train wreck,” says Kevin Outterson, professor of law and the N. Neal Pike Scholar in Health and Disability Law at BU School of Law. “It might take another decade for this to become a true disaster, or it might be tomorrow.”
But now some big influencers—with deep pockets—have heeded the warning. This past summer, Boston University and Outterson were tapped to lead an international mission to accelerate antibacterial development. The US government will fund grants and program expenses of $30 million during the first year, and has committed $250 million over five years, joined by the Wellcome Trust and a British government–sponsored public-private initiative—the AMR Centre—which will provide significant additional funding over five years.
The new group, Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator, or CARB-X, will be headquartered at BU and comprise a mix of academic, government, and private partners. The multi-faceted collaboration will provide financial incentives and business and research mentorship to companies pursuing new antibiotics, diagnostics, and vaccines.
“Resistance is exactly the sort of problem that is too complicated, too interdisciplinary, to be solved by anyone other than academic researchers working together in universities,” Outterson says. “I think the very purpose of a modern research university is to tackle incredibly complex global problems like drug resistance.”