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New data intended to ‘spark’ much-needed antibiotic research

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—The open-access Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge (SPARK) created by the Pew Charitable Trusts just got a boost from Novartis, which has shared data from its antibiotic research programs. This comes on the heels of biopharmaceutical company Achaogen’s recent commitment to give SPARK data from its own discontinued antibiotic research program.
Using technology developed by Collaborative Drug Discovery Inc., SPARK brings together chemical and biological data from published studies and previously unpublished work on a user-friendly, cloud-based platform. Available to interested researchers from all sectors, such as industry, academia, government and nonprofit, SPARK allows scientists to share information, learn from past research and generate new insights.
The platform is centered on how molecules can effectively overcome the tough defenses of gram-negative bacteria, a type of dangerous, highly resistant pathogen that is difficult to treat. Interested researchers can obtain access to SPARK using a simple online form. SPARK is part of Pew’s ongoing work to advance the goals set forth in its Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery.
Debuting last September, SPARK brings together chemical and biological data from published studies, along with previously unpublished data, and offers an opportunity for real-time collaboration among scientists. Similar data-sharing tools have helped with drug discovery in other research areas, including cancer, neglected tropical diseases and tuberculosis. Pew is trying to do the same for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A key obstacle to discovering new antibiotics is the lack of information-sharing. While there is a long history of antibiotic research, scientists may not be able to build on past work or avoid repeating mistakes because it is so difficult to access research findings. Scientists have left the field, and the science itself is challenging. 
As Allan Coukell, Pew’s senior director of health programs, explained, “Antibiotic resistance is among the world’s most pressing public health challenges, and figuring out how to defeat antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria is essential to meeting this challenge. Our hope is that the data from these early research programs will reinvigorate the pipeline of antibiotics in development. Novartis’ willingness to make this contribution ensures that its scientific investment can be used by any researcher in the quest to solve the global problem of antibiotic resistance.”
According to Lynn Silver, an independent consultant in antibacterial discovery and one of the experts who works with Pew to continually update SPARK, “The reality is that bacteria are developing resistance faster than we’re finding new drugs to defeat them. In order to change that, we must salvage and make the most of every bit of data out there—published or unpublished. We’ve already lost countless years of experience in the industry exodus from antibiotic research and development as researchers with a lifetime of expertise in antibiotic discovery have retired or moved on to other therapeutic areas. SPARK gives us the opportunity to make sure we don’t lose all of their work product by providing an open-access resource where that information can live and be useful into the future.”
Novartis added to the SPARK database by offering data from its LpxA, LpxD and LpxK antibacterial programs, which were discontinued recently. These programs looked at new methods of attacking gram-negative bacteria.
“Drug discovery is a team sport, and we are committed to partnering and sharing data with innovators who are focused on developing medicines that address global health challenges,” Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said in a press release. “We hope that contributing our data to SPARK will help improve information-sharing within the global research community working on antibiotic resistance and inspire other companies to do the same.”
Achaogen is sharing data from its LpxC inhibitor antibiotic research program on SPARK, a program that explored a new way to attack gram-negative bacteria. It was discontinued in 2017 because of unexpected toxicity findings. The agreement was facilitated by CARB-X, a nonprofit public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating antibacterial research, which helped fund Achaogen’s LpxC program.
“Sharing our data with SPARK is part of Achaogen’s ongoing commitment to address the antibiotic resistance crisis,” added Blake Wise, CEO of Achaogen. “Even though our LpxC program has ended, the data remain valuable, and we hope that our research will help SPARK users contribute to the discovery of novel antibiotics that can treat gram-negative infections.”

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