DARPA reveals the teams that'll target superbugs under HEALR project

DARPA has revealed the three teams that will work under its Hearnessing Enzymatic Activity for Lifesaving Remedies (HEALR) program to help develop new medical technologies targeted at "emerging microbial threats." DARPA seems to be particularly interested in addressing 'superbugs,' which refers to bacteria that is resistant to multiple different drugs typically used to treat infections.

DARPA's HEALR program is designed to run over three phases with three Technical Areas. The first phase of the project will last for two years and will focus on demonstrating the effectiveness of this concept, while the 18-month second phase will refine the therapeutic concept and show its effectiveness against pathogens. The agency doesn't detail HEALR's third phase.

In an announcement today, the agency revealed that it has tapped teams from the University of Washington, Yale University, and the Broad Institute to participate in the effort. Each is assigned different roles. Yale, for example, will focus on ways the body and synthetic chemistry can be used to destroy pathogens.

The Broad Institute will work to undercover and exploit a pathogen's weakness, enabling the human body to destroy the bacteria, while the University of Washington team will focus on the tools that will facilitate such treatment. The result, DARPA hopes, will be a new way to address drug-resistant bacterial infections among the military.

DARPA HEALR program manager Seth M. Cohen, Ph.D., explained:

The discovery of penicillin fundamentally changed the landscape of human health, saving the lives of millions of people from bacterial disease. HEALR aspires to do the same by extending our ability to keep warfighters healthy, speed their recoveries, and control infection. We have confidence that the teams selected have the expertise, drive, and creativity necessary to meet these ambitious goals.