The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a new programme that aims to eliminate the need for antibiotics by increasing individual tolerance to pathogens.
The Technologies for Host Resilience (THoR) programme will address the ever-growing issue of antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogens by exploring the fundamental biology of host tolerance in animal populations. If successful, the programme will be expanded to treat humans in the future.
The agency has stated that developing new medical countermeasures to multi-drug resistant pathogens is a "national security priority", and follows a White House report in March outlining the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
DARPA's THoR programme objectives:
1) Discover Tolerant Populations: Perform animal studies to examine intra- and inter-species differences in host fitness; identify sub-populations and species that are tolerant to infection.
2) Identify Biological Mechanisms of Tolerance: Define and characterize the basis for tolerance across multiple biological scales, e.g., species, tissues and cells.
3) Identify and Validate Pro-Tolerance Interventions: Recreate tolerance mechanisms in susceptible animal populations.
The issue has reached such a critical level that the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled it "an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society".
Antibiotic resistant strains have arisen due to the prevalence of antibiotics being used to treat a range of infections and viruses, from tuberculosis to gonorrhoea. While an effective treatment, new resistant strains are able to evolve making future antibiotic use ineffective.
"Our aim with THoR is to lay the foundation for new treatments that would enable the body to more easily and safely cope with infection," said Matt Hepburn, a programme manager at DARPA.
"Among other potential advantages, these new treatments would prevent the body's overreaction to infection and buy time for the individual's natural recovery mechanisms to kick in. We want to help patients 'weather the storm' during the critical phases of acute illness."
Potential participants for the THoR programme will be reviewed at a Proposers Day on 27 April in Denver, Colorado.