With deadly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis on the rise, the Pershing Square Foundation has announced that it has joined with more than twenty philanthropists from the New York and Boston areas to fund a $20 million project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Globally, more than two billion people are infected with TB, while nearly two million people die from the disease every year. Increasingly, these deaths are linked to drug-resistant strains of TB, which are nearly impossible to treat with current antibiotics. Indeed, nearly a hundred countries, including the United States, have reported cases of extensively drug-resistant TB. To spur action against this growing threat, Pershing Square Foundation co-founder Bill Ackman has teamed up with Seth Klarman, president and CEO of the Baupost Group, to raise awareness and rally others to fund the fight against TB.
Among other things, the funds will enable researchers at the Broad Institute to develop new genomic tools and methods aimed at providing a better understanding of M. tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes the disease. In particular, researchers will use "libraries" of genetically altered strains of the bacteria to try to answer the most urgent questions about the disease, such as why it is so hard to treat and what causes the bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. The Broad team also hopes to lay the groundwork for the development of new drugs that could lead to short treatment regimens — the current regimen requires up to six months of antibiotics, which often have undesirable side effects — as well as a rapid diagnostic test for drug-resistant TB that leads to treatment at earlier stages of the disease.
"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."