CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 22, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- With deadly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis on the rise, more than 20 philanthropists from New York and Boston have come together to fund a $20 million project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to help combat the global epidemic.
The project will deploy genomic tools and methods to tackle drug resistance and decipher the biological mysteries of M. tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause this ancient disease. It will also accelerate the development of a rapid diagnostic test for drug-resistant TB, which would enable earlier treatment and become a key weapon in the fight against the disease.
Around the world, more than two billion people are infected with TB, and nearly two million of them die every year. Increasingly, these deaths are linked to drug-resistant strains of TB, which are nearly impossible to treat with current antibiotics. Nearly 100 countries, including the United States, have reported cases of extensively drug-resistant TB, the toughest form of the disease to treat.
Despite these alarming rates, many in the developed world are unaware of TB's threat to global public health. Inspired by the urgent need for action, Seth Klarman, the CEO and president of The Baupost Group, L.L.C., and Bill Ackman, co-founder of The Pershing Square Foundation and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, recently joined forces to raise awareness and rally others in the financial services sector to fund the fight against TB.
"Drug resistant TB is a quiet crisis in global health," said Ackman. "This epidemic deserves more attention and resources than it's getting. I'm delighted we could join with Seth and the Broad Institute to increase awareness and get the ball rolling on an innovative approach. Still, much more needs to be done."
Using genomic technologies, researchers at Broad Institute will be developing new tools to better understand the biological basis of TB. Specifically, researchers will use 'libraries' of genetically altered strains of TB to help understand some of the most urgent questions about TB, such as why it takes so long to treat the disease and how the bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.
The Broad team is also seeking to lay the groundwork for the development of new drugs, which could potentially lead to short treatment regimens. Current treatment regimens require up to six months of antibiotics, which often have side effects. In turn, patients often stop taking the antibiotics once they feel better, which fuels drug resistance. The researchers are also working on new diagnostics to rapidly identify TB infection, particularly with drug-resistant strains.
A member of Broad's Board of Directors since 2009, Klarman said he was drawn to the targeted approach of the Institute's Infectious Disease Program. "It has become increasingly clear that we need to develop a new set of tools for those on the front lines," he said. "There is enormous leverage in this project. The first $20 million is going to help propel advances that will inspire and attract further investment. And as a result, millions of people around the world will benefit."
The Broad research team is made up of a team of investigators including Drs. Jim Collins, Stewart Fisher, Deborah Hung, Eric Rubin and Ramnik Xavier. Dr. Hung, the Co-Director of the Broad's Infectious Disease Program and a core member who is also a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and an infectious disease physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said, "TB has been around for a long time and we're not going to defeat it tomorrow. But with the amazing advances that are taking place today in biomedicine, and thanks to this wonderful gift, we are able to take the best and latest technology and tools and turn them against this widespread, ancient disease."
"We take great pride in providing this innovative team of scientists with the resources they need to tackle this challenging and uncharted area of TB research," said Olivia Tournay Flatto, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance.
About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community.
Founded by MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to broadinstitute.org.
About The Pershing Square Foundation
The Pershing Square Foundation is a private family foundation, based in New York, founded in December 2006 by Karen and Bill Ackman. The Foundation has committed more than $350 million in grants and social investments to support exceptional leaders and innovative organizations that tackle important social issues and deliver scalable and sustainable impact. Bill is the CEO and portfolio manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, L.P. For more information visit: www.pershingsquarefoundation.org.
SOURCE Broad Institute