Client Collaboration – Harvard, Akonni Partnership Wins $29M to Develop Drug-resistant Tuberculosis Diagnostic

In order to better combat infectious disease, Harvard Medical School is creating three Centers of Excellence for Translational Research: one in tuberculosis, one in bacteriology and one in virology.

Three five-year grants totaling up to $15 million per year from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, will allow HMS researchers to move discoveries about TB and emerging infections closer to applications in diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

The TB center will focus on improving diagnostics, especially in children, and on combatting drug resistance. Megan Murray, HMS professor of global health and social medicine, will lead the center.

“The TB epidemic is still fueled by the fact that people are diagnosed relatively late in the course of their disease and a lot of transmission happens before diagnosis,” said Murray, who is also HMS associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director of research at Partners in Health. “There’s no single therapy for TB, so there’s a big need to know which drugs people are resistant to.”

The TB center will build on previous work that used whole-genome sequencing to identify genetic mutations associated with drug resistance. Using bioinformatics and evolutionary techniques, they will study some 1,500 TB strains collected from an ongoing clinical research study in Peru to characterize resistance mechanisms. The scientists will correlate what they find with a measure called quantitative drug resistance, or the specific amount of a drug to which a strain becomes resistant.

Another project in the center, to be led by Eric Rubin, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the Harvard School of Public Health, will apply functional genomics to the mutations found by sequencing to see if the mutations confer drug resistance.

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