This piece was updated on Dec. 19, 2017, to include additional contact information.
WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts announced today that it will create a digital platform allowing researchers to share data, ideas, and insights to spur the discovery of innovative new antibiotics needed in the battle against the growing global threat of drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.
As tough-to-treat bacterial infections continue to emerge across the globe, the number of new antibiotics in development has stagnated. The new Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge (SPARK), a dynamic, cloud-based resource, will integrate research data with analysis by leading experts, and provide an opportunity for real-time collaboration among scientists in industry, academia, government, and the nonprofit sector.
“The world urgently needs new antibiotics, because infectious bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics faster than we are developing new drugs that can defeat them,” said Allan Coukell, senior director of health programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We are losing the race.”
“SPARK will provide a virtual laboratory for the scientists still working in this field, so they can share data and insights, learn from past research, avoid reinventing the wheel, and find new inspiration,” added Coukell.
Despite a long history of antibiotic research, scientists find it difficult to build on past research findings, which are scattered across the academic literature or not publicly available. The field has also experienced a significant brain drain, losing years of experience as industry research-and-development teams have downsized or shifted to other therapeutic areas.
In its pilot phase, SPARK will focus on data relevant to the unique challenges of finding and designing antibiotics that can defeat drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria, which are among the most dangerous and hardest-to-treat superbugs.
“Gaps in basic scientific knowledge have stalled new drug discovery,” said Kathy Talkington, director of Pew’s antibiotic-resistance project. “The critical question of how to get molecules into Gram-negative bacteria and keep them there to kill the pathogen has perplexed researchers for decades.
“Answering these kinds of fundamental scientific questions is essential to reinvigorating discovery and development efforts, and protecting future generations from a post-antibiotic era,” added Talkington.
SPARK is part of Pew’s ongoing work to advance its Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery, which outlined the need to share information, expertise, and materials across the research community. Since publication of the roadmap in 2016, Pew has collaborated with stakeholders to implement the plan, and leading experts have echoed Pew’s call for improved information sharing as a top priority.
“Information-sharing platforms like SPARK have been critical for spurring treatment breakthroughs for other disease areas, such as cancer, neglected tropical diseases, and tuberculosis,” said Talkington. “We hope that SPARK will do the same for antibiotic resistance.”
SPARK data will initially be curated from publicly available sources, such as published research articles. However, the platform will also have the capability to host and harmonize previously unpublished data and prospective research findings from studies still in progress. Efforts to identify and incorporate such data are already underway.
SPARK uses technology developed by Collaborative Drug Discovery Inc., a software company specializing in drug discovery informatics, and is expected to launch within a year.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at pewtrusts.org.
Resources for federal, state, and local decision-makers
Data-driven state policy innovations across America
Answers to common questions about Pew’s publicly available database intended to help scientists build on previous research, generate new insights