ARPA-H award aims to combat antimicrobial resistance


ARPA-H announces award to address the rapidly growing threat of antimicrobial resistance and drive antibiotic discovery to improve health outcomes

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) today announced a new project to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Bacterial infections remain a leading cause of death worldwide and more than 2.8 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur each year in the United States, causing more than 35,000 deaths. These infections also further prolong hospital stays and increase health care costs.

To combat this crisis, ARPA-H is funding through its Open Broad Agency Announcement (Open BAA) the Defeating Antibiotic Resistance through Transformative Solutions (DARTS) project. DARTS focuses on developing a set of diagnostic and experimental platforms that that can reveal insights into how antibiotic resistance starts, search for new antibiotics, and rapidly identify the right antibiotic to prescribe for a particular infection in real time.

“Antibiotic resistance is an urgent and growing threat, and we do not currently have the tools we need to combat it. We must combine better stewardship of antibiotics with novel technologies in order to save lives – exactly what this award will do,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

This initiative complements activities funded by other federal research and development agencies by taking a unique approach to develop an ultra-high-speed screening system that analyzes billions of bacteria individually. The technology, if successful, could rapidly identify bacteria that can evade antibiotic treatments and quickly find the right compound to treat a specific infection. The goal is to create a platform that can be easily employed at any hospital or clinic and would advance U.S. government efforts on surveillance and stewardship.

“Quickly identifying the right antibiotic empowers health care providers to fight off superbugs and return patients to health,” said ARPA-H Program Manager Paul Sheehan, Ph.D. “With DARTS, we aim to develop a compact diagnostic tool for the most problematic bacterial strains.”

DARTS will aid in the stewardship of current antibiotics helping to ensure that patients get the antibiotics they need and not ones that they do not need. This is a critical component of the strategy to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics over time and slow resistance to these drugs. The DARTS project further aims to serve as a rapid platform for the discovery of new antibiotics from natural samples. Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts leads the multi-institution research team under an agreement of up to $104 million.

The ARPA-H Open BAA seeks transformative ideas for health research or technology breakthroughs. Continued support of each award is contingent on projects meeting aggressive milestones. The Open BAA began accepting abstracts in March 2023 and is open until March 2024. Projects will be funded on a rolling basis. To learn more about projects as they are awarded, visit the awardee page