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Medicine

Crowdsourcing the Discovery of New Antibiotics 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-a-red-pill dept.
First time accepted submitter Josiah Zayner writes "Katie Drummond at The Verge reports that 'the Infectious Diseases Society of America warned that the pipeline of new antibiotics was "on life support," with only seven drugs in advanced stages of development to treat multidrug-resistant gram-negative superbugs. That's in part because, unlike drugs prescribed to treat chronic conditions, antibiotics are only taken for a few days or weeks at a time — meaning they're less profitable for pharmaceutical companies.' Dr. Josiah Zayner, a synthetic biology fellow at NASA, and Dr. Mark Opal, a neurobiologist and drug development specialist have started an Indiegogo campaign: The ILIAD Project. ILIAD stands for the International Laboratory for Identification of Antibacterial Drugs. Contributors to the project will receive Science kits with all the materials needed for testing environmental samples, such as plants, insects, and bacteria, for antibiotic properties. The information will then be documented in Open manner on Wiki-style website to create the first Massively Multi-Scientist Open Experiment."
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Crowdsourcing the Discovery of New Antibiotics

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    See the failure here: They only make money when people are sick. The economics are not there to make people better. The economics are there to make a profit off as many sick people for as long as possible.

    We really need to work on a new system where the profit is in healthy people not sick people.

    • Yeah, Sure the current system is broken, but it's the best system we have, so if you don't like it move to another country.

    • by MightyYar (622222) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:46PM (#45579647)

      Prize money. Put up a $5 billion prize for the first company to get past the FDA.

      Of course, this will provide an incentive for them to hide bad long-term results, but hey, we have a little of that now and decent systems in place to deal with it. Pay out only partially with full payment after 5 years of use or something if you really want to.

  • by doctor woot (2779597) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:47PM (#45579651)

    If, for instance, the traditional method of giving the financial burden of medical research to pharmaceutical companies, in exchange for patents which allow them to recoup their losses, is too costly to the public, in terms of both availability of existing treatment (companies have to make their money back somehow) and development of new treatments (since medical researchers have to take care not to infringe on the patents of others, even if it means skipping out on a potential cure for, say, cancer) then possibly, we could try an entirely new approach. Say, asking from the general public a portion of their wages in exchange for an investment into such research. We could even make it compulsory; after all, the benefits of advanced and available medical care benefit the whole of society, as opposed to say, an investment in a company like General Motors, which would do little to secure the welfare of the general population.

    Maybe we ought to form an organization dedicated to ensuring the well being of the public. Could work.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:16PM (#45579863)

      Sounds like you support taxing for the "general welfare". You must be a Marxist.

    • Mathematical model (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:33PM (#45579947) Homepage Journal

      Say, asking from the general public a portion of their wages in exchange for an investment into such research.

      Let's construct a mathematical model(*).

      Define a block and call it "the public". Note that this block consists many little blocks, each representing an individual member of the public.

      Define another block and call it "medical services". This block also consists of lots of little blocks, but somewhat fewer than the "public" blocks since 1 hospital will serve more than one person &c.

      Draw arrows representing the flow money from the "public" block to the "medical" block. We can construct the arrows any way we want - each arrow can be an "average" consumer, or we can have a range of consumers, or we can mirror the actual population one-for-one. Bundle the arrows into a flow or "river" that represents the money going from the public to the medical services.

      Now place a block in the middle of that flow, between the consumers and the services. Call this block "the corporation".

      From a games-theory point of view, the goal of the corporation is to divert as much of the money stream as possible into its own coffers. If the diverted money optional, then the company has to compete for the streams: it has to provide a service which the public thinks is worth the amount of money diverted.

      If the diverted money is not optional, then the corporation need not supply any benefit or services. Indeed, the corporation benefits by increasing the input money flow to the maximum amount that the system can handle, and reducing the output money flow to the minimum amount the system can tolerate.

      I'm happy to support legislation/regulation that will solve a problem. Can you find a solution where the players have incentive to provide the best value... for the public?

      (*) Wildly simplistic for illustration, but the trends are overwhelming: accurate refinements will show the same result.

      • It seems you've missed the point of the joke (which implies that we ought to have a government that actually takes care of things which are vital to society), but thank you for displaying your resplendent knowledge of game theory.

        • It seems you've missed the point of the joke (which implies that we ought to have a government that actually takes care of things which are vital to society), but thank you for displaying your resplendent knowledge of game theory.

          In all fairness, it's hard to tell that it was a joke.

          In any event, I agree with you that the government should work for the benefit of the people. I'm still playing with message delivery - using a math construction to see if it plays well to an audience of geeks. We'll see how it gets modded in the next day or so.

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Historically, that has a flaw as well. Take a look at public funding of health research vs incidence or prevalence. Completely skewed towards groups that can apply the most pressure on congress (orders of magnitude out of whack). Funding becomes politically motivated rather than "ensuring the well being of the public."

      • Historically, that has a flaw as well.

        That's the point of the joke. But you're right, expecting fairness of politicians is silly and unproductive.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:01PM (#45579755)

    TFS says "only seven ... in advanced stages of development". How many new antibiotics do we need in the next five or ten years? If seven are in advanced stages of development, that means there are a couple dozen in earlier stages, to go up for approval twenty years from now. Do we need a dozen brand new antibiotics every year? Should we be skeptical of this article's assumption that seven at a time isn't enough?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Depends on the infection, but if you do a simple stress test on antibiotics with varying densities in a petri dish, infections can break through lower densities fairly quickly.
      Considering so many morons never finish their full course of antibiotics, those levels routinely drop below and infections can grow again.
      Then they bitch at the doctor again because it never worked only to get more antibiotics, ONLY TO REPEAT IT.
      It is one of the biggest reasons next to abuse in factory farming for massive increases in

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday December 02, 2013 @10:36PM (#45580637)

      I'd argue we need thousands. Tens of thousands would be even better. If you're in the west it's nice to think bacterial infections are no big deal. The majority of the world who live in poverty would greatly disagree with your limited scope however. I visited a leper colony in Africa. Yes they still have those, and it's fucking horrific. Mycobacterium leprae (the bacterium that causes it) cannot be grown in culture. It has to be grown ON an animal or human (think about that for a minute) and has also started to become resistant to the only known antibiotic to be affective against it. Should this resistance continue (and it will) we could start seeing outbreaks in the west. The day your dick falls off, you might think 7 antibiotics "in the pipeline" may not be enough. Since none of those 7 even remotely target leprosy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Med student here. We learned in our microbiology course that antibiotic resistance pops up fairly rapidly - as short as 2 years, hence the perpetual need for new antibiotics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:04PM (#45579783)

    I've been reading Derek Lowe's blog (http://www.pipeline.corante.com/) for some time, since finding out about his "Things I Won't Work With" series of posts (hilarious, highly recommended). He's a drug discovery chemist. Several of his recent posts have actually discussed this issue of pharma companies not currently developing many new antibiotics.

    Based on what I've learned by following him, this crowdsourcing effort seems very unlikely to change anything. Identifying potential drug candidates "in vitro" (i.e. in a petri dish) is the easy part. Getting them to function "in vivo" (in a living animal such as a rodent, and eventually humans), and finding ones which not only work in vivo but also are not excessively toxic, that's the hard part. For almost every successful drug, there were hundreds or thousands of other candidates which looked great in vitro but were ineffective in vivo, or too toxic to use. The process of screening drug candidates to find winners is hideously expensive, and completely out of reach of amateurs.

    In other words, this project follows the classic (and useless) "idea-man" pattern: it "solves" the easy part of the problem (generating ideas / drug candidates) without having any plan for the hard stuff. It will therefore ultimately depend on pharma companies anyways. You know, the same ones which aren't terribly interested in doing the hard and expensive work on antibiotic candidates because the economics look bad to them right now.

    IMO, we as a society should instead be pushing issues like: "Why are we so slavishly devoted to the notion that funding for drug discovery must derive from capitalistic market forces"? This seems like the very definition of a problem which should be addressed by spending tax money on antibiotic research. Same goes for many other categories of drug.

    The other part of the conversation should be "why are we so devoted to not cracking down on antibiotic overprescription and unprescribed use of antibiotics in both human and veterinary medicine"? (That being why old antibiotics are losing effectiveness.) Once again, obvious candidates for government action.

    (But this is slashdot, so I predict libertarian resistance to sensible ideas about public policy and spending.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why are you (and TFA) both assuming that the market is wrong and that finding new antibotics is more important than the value placed upon it by companies in a position to do it? You have this intuition that it is important, and some rationale that cannot be tested because it involves some speculation about the future need for new antibiotics. If you are right then it will prove very profitable to own the new antibiotic in time to save the day so you ought start a company or invest in one that is doing ant

      • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday December 02, 2013 @09:49PM (#45580395) Homepage Journal

        Why are you (and TFA) both assuming that the market is wrong and that finding new antibotics is more important than the value placed upon it by companies in a position to do it? You have this intuition that it is important, and some rationale that cannot be tested because it involves some speculation about the future need for new antibiotics.

        The situation has basically been taken out of the "market" model.

        Risk-averse bureaucrats make the safety requirements without any cost burden of implementing the requirements. As a result, the drugs must be "safe at any cost", rather then "do more harm than good".

        The consumers are captive, forced to use the system: no one can choose a "risky, less-well tested, but cheaper" treatment. While this may seem reasonable on the surface, it means that companies don't have to compete for consumers based on the value of their services.

        Nothing about this system even remotely resembles a market.

        To address your point directly, let's assume that one human life is worth $5 million [wikipedia.org]. That's a reasonable estimate, and it doesn't much matter where you put the estimates, you can still do the analysis. Also assume that it costs $5 billion [forbes.com] to develop a new antibiotic.

        The trade-off appears to be 1,000 lives lost. If no company develops a new antibiotic and 2,000 lives are lost, then the regulations have hurt society more than they have helped. The problem is that the cost of 2,000 human lives is not borne by the regulatory agency or the drug companies. They can safely claim "it isn't our fault" if anything bad happens.

        As you say, the need for future antibiotics can't be tested - but the break-even point is small and we have abundant historical evidence from before the discovery of antibiotics about the effect on our population health.

        "Speculation" and untested rationale aren't the appropriate words to use here. "Impending disaster" is much closer than you would have us believe.

      • You are so full of shit I don't even know where to begin.

        For one thing, drug resistant infection is quite common, and becoming more so every month. I have no idea what led you to believe antibiotic resistance isn't a serious problem. Cite me a respected public health organization that isn't seriously concerned; I doubt you can even find me one that isn't outright shitting their pants.

        And all your pro-market babble toward the end of that giant paragraph is pure sociopathy. "Moreover, undiscovered antibi
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        I'm a PhD with experience in clinical trial design and analysis. I have no money (I said I'm a PhD, right?) but I'll happily help start and work for a company that wants to do productive medical research. A friend of mine picked out a perfect spot in Puerto Rico for the headquarters. Does that count?

    • IMO, we as a society should instead be pushing issues like: "Why are we so slavishly devoted to the notion that funding for drug discovery must derive from capitalistic market forces"? This seems like the very definition of a problem which should be addressed by spending tax money on antibiotic research.

      Yeah, cause that works so well for everything else. Nothing's homier than public housing, healthier than a "free" clinic, or cleaner than a public restroom.

    • But this is slashdot, so I predict libertarian resistance to sensible ideas about public policy and spending.

      This is a site frequented mainly by real Americans so you will hear our freedom loving, capitalist ideals.

      See, our founding fathers didn't need any of this antibiotic bullshit. When they got an infection, they chopped off the gangrenous body parts or died of the infection, like REAL AMERICANs! It's just too unprofitable to do otherwise.

      Go back to China, but take this copy of the Atlas Shrugged and maybe you can come back some time.

  • Still the most potent anti-biotic on the planet is plain old penicillin. And no, Amoxycillin and all its derivatives aren't the same and aren't better. UNLESS you are allergic to penicillin. Then you have no choice. Thing is, penicillin is about a nickel a pill and it works much faster. No money in it for the drug companies.

    Same with sweeteners. Still the safest on the market is saccharin. But the patent ran out on it so the drug companies again needed a way to make money.

    • except (Score:5, Informative)

      by slew (2918) on Monday December 02, 2013 @09:23PM (#45580233)

      Still the most potent anti-biotic on the planet is plain old penicillin. And no, Amoxycillin and all its derivatives aren't the same and aren't better. UNLESS you are allergic to penicillin. Then you have no choice. Thing is, penicillin is about a nickel a pill and it works much faster. No money in it for the drug companies.

      Same with sweeteners. Still the safest on the market is saccharin. But the patent ran out on it so the drug companies again needed a way to make money.

      Okay, I'll bite...

      Except for the small fact that penicillin is basically ineffective against most gram-negative bacteria (because of the outer membrane of GN-bacteria). Many common bacterial including E coli, H pylori, and various strains of Salmonella are gram negative and can cause various problems if they infect certain tissues in the body. This particular campaign was for drugs that attack gram-negative bacteria (the trial kits test against a supposedly non-pathogenic strain of E coli).

      Also most artificial sweeteners are all pretty much all poison (saccaharin included), and even worse they generally haven't been show to actually prevent any of the problems associated with high sugar intake (including weight gain, diabetes and cardiac issues). Even mostly natural substitutes are generally high in fructose (yes the same "F" that is in HFCS) and that includes honey and agave syrup. The jury is out on Stevia and Monk Fruit. Just eat less sweet stuff.

       

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:15PM (#45579857) Homepage Journal

    The main problem is overuse of antibiotics - both in the food supply itself, and in every day usage, is breeding resistance to our current antibiotics. Combined with people going off meds before the antiobiotic regime is completed.

    Discovering "new" antibiotics won't make that problem go away.

    Fix the source of the problem not the symptom.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Agreed. Finding new antibiotics only postpones the problem. We can take steps now to alleviate it, like banning antibiotic soap and restricting the use of antibiotics currently in use. Bacteria make up well over 99% of the biomass of the planet. A war on them isn't one we can win.
  • by rritterson (588983) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:37PM (#45579979)

    This is an interesting proposal to combat the "death of antibiotic" problem. Even if it were wildly sucessful, though, I fear that big business may not take up the results that are found, though. For one, although discovering new sources does remove some of the capital hurdles to development, a substantial part of the cost of drug development is the large clinical studies that must be undertaken in order to garner FDA approval. This project would do nothing to solve that problem.

    In addition, it raises some interesting IP issues that may make pharma balk--if I discover some natural substance has antibiotic properties, do I earn an inventor title on the patent and partial royalities for the development?

    What is really needed, I think, is a diversion of part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget toward research that would otherwise be avoided due to the lack of profit at the end. Even as someone, who, myself is funded by NIH, I think we could make better use of some of the many billions a year by re-directing them.

    That all said, if the project is not viewed with the end goal of developing new antibiotics, but instead viewed as a project designed to encourage particiaption in modern biology--an educational project that might cause a discovery, it's hard to think of it as anything but a fanstastic idea.

    • If I found the new antibiotic while testing pants or bugs in my garden for fun I wouldn't be too pissed if I didn't get any money for it.

      I would just be happy to have helped,

    • Thanks so much!
      Yeah, the project has many cool aspects. To teach Science, to bring awareness to antibiotic resistance, to start a massive open Science project.

      The development of drugs is no small task, we know that! We are attempting to contribute what we can and allow others to contribute what they can. Often people think of how things are _now_ but not how they will be in the future. Regardless of whether we, or people who collaborate with us, or companies, develop these drugs the database should be p
  • A bunch of scientists with enough spare time who apparently can't find enough funding to be fully employed experimenting with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in their spare time in their make-shift private labs...

    Or better yet some wannabe scientists that think they know what they are doing trying their first experiments with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in their basements and garages.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • So we can waste them on livestock and toddlers with viral ear infections but sufficiently-whiny mothers?

    Fuck that! Until the FDA and the WHO outright ban the use of ALL antibiotics, including for veterinary use, without the presence of either a (human-)life-threatening situation or a positive ID on the pathogen, I have zero interest in helping our little "better than apex predator" buddies evolve resistance to yet another class of effective ways to keep me alive when they decide I look like a tasty place
    • On the one hand I agree with you. Things can hit a critical point fast if human beings are not careful.
      On the other hand(this one is my right hand I think) comfortability is what allows us humans to spend time thinking and developing technology and cool things and beautiful things! Where does one draw a line like you said. What if I am in extreme pain but it is not life threatening and the lab test for the bacteria takes two days? I guess we could make people suffer or we could give them antibiotics in ho
      • by pla (258480)
        What if I am in extreme pain but it is not life threatening and the lab test for the bacteria takes two days?

        Opiates do amazing things. Pity, really, that some humans have a problem with moderation, because vicodin counts as the single best flu remedy ever.


        Are you going to be the one that rejects giving the whiny mother the antibiotic only to have her child die?

        Not too many people die of ear infections - Even mild hearing loss counts as a relatively low-frequency outcome. And unlike the whiny mot
  • Not that I have the urge to track down death caps or anything, but I have noticed that NOTHING seems to munch on or infect poison oak (at least where I live). It stays nice, glossy green until the leaves turn in the fall, without wilting or mold or any other ailment I can see on other plants. It would be interesting to see if the urushiol oil or something else protected it.

    • I have not thought of that. The Cool thing is you can test whatever you think might work. If has some Scientific basis and logic to it that is even cooler!
    • by hyades1 (1149581)

      The deer around where I live eat it like salad.

  • Infections are bad. Sometimes they are really bad. I can't say I have ever had a serious infection. Could be I've had an extremely lucky life in this first world country I live in. I'm sure that factors in there somewhere. I have had lots of cuts, scrapes, breaks and even a tear of an epic nature. (I was a young teen, running through a field and tripped on a fallen and very old barbed wire fence while wearing sandals. Ripped a very bad area on the top of my foot... looked like a skinned catfish.) I

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let's see if they 'crowd-source' the profits and / or stock options when the results are commercialised.

  • I bought a kit because I think this would be fun to do with my daughter. It is worth it for that experience alone. This also seems like a very fun activity to do for a classroom project. You get to go out and find things you want to sample, then do the test, etc. Geo tagging, and the like as well. Maybe it wont ultimately be successful, but it will certainly be a fun and educational experience for the participants.

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