Why is the ‘anti’ disappearing from antibiotics?

KEVIN OUTTERSON The LAW professor will lead a trans-Atlantic public-private partnership to spur the development of new antibiotics and antimicrobial diagnostics and vaccines.

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.

We don't
mean to brag.
Actually, yes,
we do.

Both on and off campus, the work of our professors and researchers has gained considerable notice, whether it’s analyzing the smallest of particles in the universe or delving deep into the world of traumatic stress. Below is a sampling of the accomplishments that earned applause for our faculty this past year:

Physics professors Ed Kearns, Lawrence Sulak, James Stone, and Flor de Maria Blaszczyk, a postdoctoral associate, are some of the 16 current and past BU physicists who split a $3 million Breakthrough Prize with over 1,000 colleagues worldwide for their research into neutrinos.

Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus, was named chair of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Kate Snodgrass, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of the practice of playwriting and artistic director of the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, was one of eight artists across the country selected for a prestigious 2015 Tanne Foundation Award for her contributions to theatre.

Howard Bauchner, a School of Medicine professor of pediatrics, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the top honors in the medical field.

Richard Primack, professor of biology at the College of Arts & Sciences, won an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award. He will work in collaboration with climate change scientists in Germany.

Two BU scientists were named to INSIGHT into Diversity magazine’s list of 100 inspiring women working in STEM fields in higher education: Elise Morgan, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, and Cynthia Brossman, founder and administrative director of BU’s Learning Resource Network. Together, they cofounded BU’s Summer Pathways outreach program, which engages high school girls in science, engineering, and math.

Terence Keane, assistant dean for research and professor and vice chair of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, received the John Blair Barnwell Award, the Veterans Administration’s highest honor for clinical research. Keane is recognized as a world leader in the field of traumatic stress.

Three College of Engineering faculty members were elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE): Xin Zhang, Edward Damiano, and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham. The AIMBE College of Fellows is made up of the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers in the country.

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.”