NIH announces $20 million contest to develop rapid tests for antibiotic resistance

The United States Government has launched a $20 million contest to develop rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests to spot and identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

This initiative was first proposed by the Obama administration in 2014 as part of a larger plan to develop a strategy to combat antibiotic resistance. 

This contest is called the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge and entrants have to develop rapid in vitro point-of-care tests that can identify infectious pathogens and drug resistance. Currently the standard tests use microbial culture and take several days to deliver results. Contestants have to develop tests that can deliver results within a few hours at most so that the information can be used to make decisions about antibiotic treatment. 

At present patients with serious infections are often given broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment, sometimes with multiple antibiotics while the clinicians wait for results of antibiotic susceptibility tests.  Another goal of the contest is to develop tests that can rapidly distinguish between bacterial and viral infections because standard antibiotic treatment of viral infections is ineffective and specific antiviral drugs may be required.

The contest is targeting 18 drug-resistant bacteria considered the most threatening. There are three organisms considered to be urgent threat level pathogens and these are Clostridium difficile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The remaining 12 are considered to be serious threat level pathogens. The full list can be found in table 3, page 69 of the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.

Contest entries can come from individuals, teams, businesses and nonprofit groups. Up to twenty semifinalists will receive $50,000 apiece to further develop their ideas. These will later be whittled down to ten finalists who will receive an additional $100,000 each and will be required to supply prototypes for evaluation by two independent laboratories by January 3, 2020. The judges will then choose up to three winners, who will share at least $18 million to further develop and produce their prototypes and begin commercialization of the devices.

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