BROCKTON, Massachusetts: For a single-celled organism, bacteria are pretty smart.
So smart, said Kenneth Lawrence, the senior director of medical affairs at Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-based biotechnology company working to develop new antibiotic drugs, that it’s inevitable that they’ll mutate to become resistant to any sort of medication doctors can throw in their way.
That’s why his company is looking for both new drugs and new ways to encourage development of novel antibiotics to help stave off that eventuality.
So are the students of Brockton High School’s biotechnology program, which is in its fifth year. The students are investigating antibiotic resistance—a phenomenon where infections become untreatable over time with known antibiotic drugs and that has described as one of the most pressing issues facing medicine today.
On Thursday (Friday in Manila), they presented their work so far to the community during a informational event in the Red Cafe. The event featured poster displays about various aspects of the crisis, a student-filmed public service announcement and a presentation by Lawrence.
Lawrence’s talk focused mostly on the pharmaceutical industry’s business environment that makes researching new antibiotics difficult, expensive and risky.
He described how overuse of antibiotics both medically and in raising animals for meat products has quickened the pace that antibiotic resistant has developed until bacteria began to show signs of being nearly immune to every known antibiotic.
But, discovering new, successful drugs can cost over $1 billion. “It’s really, really hard to find a new target for a drug. It’s high risk to do that, and people don’t like risk. Most of the drugs being developed don’t focus on that area, so really we need to watch our use of antibiotics,” Lawrence said.
But the biotechnology program’s hope this year is that it can help in that area, even just a little bit.
This month, students will start testing soil samples in a new lab space to try to identify new compounds that have anti-microbial properties, said medical doctor David Mangus, who runs the biotech program.
At the end of the year, the students will present the results of that research to the scientists as Tetraphase, Mangus said.