Antibiotics are a weakness in biopharma pipelines. Poor returns led developers to exit the sector years ago, only for hospital-acquired infections to become a big, deadly and potentially lucrative problem. Big Pharma is returning to the sector, but two academics have a different idea: crowdsource discovery.
The plan is to equip 1,000 citizen scientists with kits to test whatever plants, insects, fungi and bacteria they can find in their area for antibiotic activity. By enlisting the support of people from around the world, the team behind the initiative hopes to cover more ground than would be possible in a traditional drug discovery organization. Each tester will upload their results to an open-access database that the public and antibiotic researchers can mine for insights into potential drug candidates.
If a user discovers a particularly promising substance, they can pass it along to the team behind the project, which will have a network of scientific collaborators verify and follow up on the finding. "These guys can do a bunch of assays to determine, first of all, whether the substance has antibiotic properties, and second, what's at the root of those properties," University of Chicago neurobiologist and project co-founder Mark Opal told The Verge. Of course, even if a substance looks good at this stage, the odds of approval are slim.
The project has a more immediate concern, though: securing enough cash. At the time of writing, the project has raised $5,294 of its targeted $42,000 on crowdfunding website indiegogo. The money will go toward sending out testing kits and setting up the database, but--as is usual with crowdfunding sites--the team will only receive funding if the $42,000 target is hit by the Dec. 28 deadline.