The widespread use of antibiotics has led to the emergence of antibiotic resistance in many pathogenic bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infections caused by these bacteria now pose urgent and serious threats to public health.
In response to these threats, DARPA’s Pathogen Predators program will explore the potential use of living predatory bacteria to treat bacterial infections caused by threat agents and antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This approach represents a significant departure from conventional antibacterial therapies that depend on small molecule antibiotics. The novel path explored in this program relies on the existence of motile predatory bacteria that prey upon and consume other Gram-negative bacteria. In vitro studies have shown that predators such as Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus and Micavibrio aeruginosavorus preyed upon more than one hundred different human pathogens, including several that were multi-drug resistant. These results suggest that it might be feasible to develop a predator-based therapeutic with activity against a broad spectrum of Gram-negative pathogens, including those that are resistant to antibiotics.
The Pathogen Predators program will support basic science studies aimed at a molecular-level understanding of predator-prey interactions. In addition, the program will initiate studies that use in vivo infectious disease models to answer three fundamental questions that are central to the feasibility of a predator-based therapeutic: (1) are predators toxic to recipient (host) organisms; (2) against what pathogens (prey) are predators effective; and (3) can pathogens develop resistance to predation? The answers to these questions will determine if further development of a predator-based therapeutic is warranted.
If successful, the Pathogen Predators program will lay the groundwork for a living predator-based therapeutic that is safe and efficacious against a large number of infectious diseases, including those that are resistant to conventional treatments.
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