Semifinalists in NIH/BARDA diagnostic test challenge aim to thwart antimicrobial resistance

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Submissions propose tests to ward of unnecessary, ineffective antibiotic use

“Think ‘home pregnancy test’ but for nearly any infectious disease,” — specifically for drug-resistant gonorrhea — one submission proposed, describing a fast, cheap, disposable device that would make diagnosing infectious diseases “almost as simple as taking a patient’s blood pressure.”

Another submission described a quick blood test that can be used in primary care settings without highly trained staff, and, by showing whether a patient’s illness is caused by a virus or bacteria in ten minutes, guide appropriate treatment.

And, noting that community-acquired pneumonia, causing up to 4 million deaths annually worldwide is the fourth leading cause of death globally, a submission proposed a quick breath test that could direct immediate treatment without unnecessary use of antibiotics.

The  National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will provide $50,000 to develop a prototype of each, as well as seven more submissions selected from 74 as semi-finalists in the agencies’ joint Antimicrobial Resistance Challenge. The challenge seeks not only to identify pathogens that have grown resistant to common treatments, but to avert the inappropriate and excessive use of antibiotics as a first resort.

The semifinalists take diverse approaches to that end, but share the goals of developing tools that can be used in primary care settings, provide quick results, and accelerate accurate diagnoses of conditions that include drug resistance that is currently detected only when treatments fail, and illnesses that are commonly misdiagnosed. A second phase of the challenge will invite prototype submissions that may then be awarded up to $100,000. Overall, the challenge aims to award up to $20 million for new diagnostic tools that can contribute to the control of antimicrobial resistance, a growing worldwide threat that causes an estimated 23,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone.

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