U.S. And U.K. Team Up On Antibiotic Resistance

On Thursday the U.S. and the U.K. announced a bilateral public-private partnership to address the challenges of antibiotic resistance.  CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator) is a joint effort of the following organizations:

From the U.K.

  • Wellcome Trust
  • AMR Centre

From the U.S.

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  • Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • California Life Sciences Institute
  • MassBio
  • Boston University Law School
  • Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
  • RTI International

The accelerator intends to support at least 20 antibacterial products, with funding for the project coming primarily from BARDA, Wellcome and the AMR Centre.  BARDA has committed to providing $250 million over 5 years, and Wellcome and the AMR Centre will provide additional funds.  NIAID will provide in-kind research and technical support.  Additionally, the private sector partners will provide research and/or business support for projects selected by CARB-X.

There is a two-stage application process for CARB-X support.  Interested projects will need to submit an Expression of Interest form, and if selected, will complete a fuller application process with one of the CARB-X accelerators (Wellcome, AMR Centre, MassBio or the California Life Sciences Institute).  Expressions of Interest are being accepted through the end of October, though it is possible that there will be future funding cycles.

What About The Privately Owned Research Chimps?

In 2015 The National Institutes of Health ended its support for invasive research on chimpanzees, continuing the retirement of federally owned research chimpanzees it started in 2013.  In 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified research chimpanzees as endangered, further restricting chimpanzee research under a permitting system.

The research chimpanzees retired by the NIH (a process that has not gone well) have been guaranteed spots in a Louisiana sanctuary.  Research chimpanzees not held by the government do not have such a guarantee, but a reserve in Georgia has been redeveloped to fill that need.  It’s not the only option for those 300 or so chimps that need a home.  They could retire in place, or be transferred to other research centers or zoos.

Project Chimps spearheaded the effort, which should help address this need.  The sanctuary has taken its first group of chimps, and expects to host over 250 animals.

If You Wanted Hamilton To Have More Scientists In It, Watch This Video

While tickets to the theater phenomenon that is Hamilton have been hard to come by, the music has been easier to find.  And easier to listen to, obsess over, and create parodies of like this gem.  With words by Tim Blais (nom de YouTube – A Capella Science), and music from the song Alexander Hamilton, the video features a plethora of science focused YouTube creators, many of whom I’ve posted about here before.  See how many you can recognize.

Go ahead, listen to it again.

Sir William Rowan Hamilton was unknown to me before this tune.  He’s a Irish scientist of the 19th century, with expertise in physics, mathematics, and astronomy.  The video focuses on his work with algebraic triplets, which, if I can oversimplify it, involves expanding the use of complex numbers into three dimensions.  His knighthood preceded his work in triplets, and acknowledged his earlier extensive work in optics.  That work included developing a function that describes the working of an optical system and applying that function to dynamic systems.

But it’s still more entertaining to listen to all of that in three minutes and change versus reading that colorless paragraph.

Update Tuesday: New Names For HeLa Film And Defense Innovation Board

Two quick items that have little or no relation to each other.

The film adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks continues with the casting announcements.  Renée Elise Goldsberry has joined the cast as the title character, whose cells were taken and used for medical research without her knowledge or consent.  Goldsberry is best known for her Tony-winning role as Angelica Schuyler Church in the play Hamilton.  She recently left the play, and depending on when this film comes out, it might be a way for her to be seen by more people than managed to see her off or on Broadway.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced several additions to the Department’s Innovation Advisory Board.  This would expand the board to 15 members, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is board chair.  Secretary Carter has asked the board to identify private-sector practices and technology solutions that the Department could adopt.  The full roster of board members is (names of the new additions in bold italics):

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Alphabet Inc. (DIAB chair)
Jeff Bezos, president, chairman and CEO, Amazon Inc.
Adam Grant, professor, Wharton School of Business
Danny Hillis, computer theorist & co-founder, Applied Inventions
Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn, and partner, Greylock Partners
Walter Isaacson, president & CEO, Aspen Institute
Eric Lander, president and founding director, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Marne Levine, chief operating officer, Instagram
J. Michael McQuade, senior vice president for science and technology, United Technologies
William McRaven, chancellor, University of Texas System
Milo Medin, vice president, Access Services, Google Capital
Richard Murray, professor, California Institute of Technology
Jennifer Pahlka, founder, Code for America
Cass Sunstein, professor, Harvard Law School
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author

You might notice a few notable names (for instance, Sunstein is scheduled to be on The Late Show later this week) on the board.  The board is expected to provide initial recommendations by October.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of July 25

This week the Democratic National Convention takes place in Philadelphia, and that will prompt similar late night changes to what happened last week.  There should be an episode of Weekend Update on Wednesday night, The Late Show is live (to the East Coast) at least through Thursday, and there may be an extra episode of Full Frontal on Wednesday night.  I have no idea if science and technology matters will play a role in any of this, but it’s fair to say the situation is relatively fluid.

As for the convention, from what I’ve seen of the schedule, it appears that any science and technology issue discussion is limited to meetings that are not on the convention floor.  Some people are speaking about various medical conditions, but none of them are slated for evening spots that will receive much media attention (and therefore serve as fodder for the late night programs).

Last week I mentioned an appearance from Ron Suskind on Monday’s edition of The Late Show to discuss a documentary focused on his autistic son.  That did not happen.  It’s entirely possible that the interview was recorded and will be aired at a later date, because that happened with another guest scheduled for Monday night.  Her interview aired on Friday, which was mostly a ‘highlights’ show with in-studio introductions from Colbert recorded very early Friday morning.

Promotion continues for the new Star Trek film (again, I’m mentioning only those actors who play scientists or engineers in the film).  Zachary Quinto, who plays Science Officer Spock, was on Live with Kelly this morning and will be on Watch What Happens Live Tuesday night.

Tatiana Maslany, recently nominated for an Emmy recognizing her work as several clones on Orphan Black, makes the rounds this week as well.  She appears on The Late Late Show Tuesday and on the episode of Chelsea that Netflix premieres on Friday.  On that same episode is the science author Mary Roach.  Her latest book focuses on military science and technology and like some of her other books, embraces things that many would consider squeamish.

In other guest news, scholar of (among other things) behavioral economics Cass Sunstein, who is usually part of any discussion involving ‘nudges’ in public policy, is on The Nightly Show on Thursday.

No ‘missed content’ this week, mainly due to politics dominating the late night landscape (unless you were with Conan O’Brien at Comic Con).  That may happen again this week.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is *Such* A Weasel

For whatever reason, my nephew never got into the Ice Age animated films, so I’m unfamiliar with them.  I was a bit surprised to find out that in the fifth installment – premiering this weekend in the United States – Neil deGrasse Tyson has a small part.  As a fictional weasel.

OK, all of the weasels in the film are fictional, but Tyson’s weasel is doubly so, as he appears solely in the imagination of another character.  Regardless, Neil deBuck Weasel appears in the mind of the weasel Buck (voiced by Simon Pegg, who coincidentally is in the Star Trek movie that premiered this weekend) to help Buck figure out a possible solution for the major crisis facing him and his friends.

Tyson apparently offered scientific advice while recording his part, and has complimented the movie on having some basis of scientific fact in some of its depictions of talking fauna.  Take from that what you will, or just see the film for yourself.

Congressional Inaction Doesn’t Stop FDA, NIAID And CDC From Dealing With Zika

Congress managed once again to do nothing when something was necessary, this time with a funding bill to deal with the Zika virus.  The executive branch, however, does not have the luxury of inaction, especially with a lack of resources.  And once Congress returns, the combination of a chronically broken appropriations process and the November elections makes it nearly certain that instead of a new budget there will be a continuing resolution.  Such a resolution would continue spending at the prior year’s levels, which typically means new proposals like Zika funding are shut out.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been active in the vacuum of Congressional leadership.  The FDA has taken steps on protecting the blood supply, supporting potential diagnostic tests, dealing with potential Zika-related fraudulent devices and addressing the mosquitoes that carry the virus.  But as of this writing there are no FDA-approved diagnostic tests, vaccines or treatments in the advanced stages of development.

The CDC has been active in developing resources for state and local health agencies, as well as various stakeholders.  They are assisting the Utah Department of Health in a case of virus transmission, and may assist other states as the number of U.S. cases grows.  The NIAID has been active in researching the virus since before the current outbreak, but started expanding that work in the beginning of 2016.

However, without additional resources (using Ebola funds that have not yet been spent could be counterproductive), the impact of this work will be necessarily limited.  With almost 800 pregnant women with Zika in the United States, perhaps the microcephaly associated with Zika births will motivate Congressional action.  But I’m not optimistic.