Today, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation announced 33 academic research awards focused on improving outcomes from difficult-to-treat infections that impact people with CF. The awards, totaling nearly $15 million, will be funded through the Foundation's Infection Research Initiative: a sweeping, $100 million effort to improve detection, diagnosis, and treatment of infection. Since launching the Initiative, the Foundation has already committed more than $58 million toward this goal.
People with CF who have chronic infections are at greater risk for worsening lung disease and death, and infection remains a top concern of both patients and clinicians. Even at very young ages, more than 60 percent of individuals have at least one microorganism, and this increases to more than 80 percent in older ages. Many individuals also suffer severe side effects from long-term antibiotic use, such as hearing loss, and are at increased risk of developing antibiotic-resistant infections.
“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is committed to advancing novel mechanisms to detect and treat chronic infections that affect people with CF -- ultimately improving outcomes related to this serious and widespread manifestation of the disease. This funding will support a wide range of infection-related research with the potential to unlock new opportunities to address challenges people with CF face,” said Dara Riva, director of clinical research awards at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Addressing key challenges related to infection
Awards included in this funding focus on addressing some of the most difficult challenges facing researchers and people with CF who have chronic infections, including detection and antimicrobial resistance.
Detection and diagnosis
Detection and diagnosis of infections remains a challenge in cystic fibrosis. Currently, a sputum culture is required to test for infection. With the widespread use of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) modulators, many patients may no longer produce enough sputum to generate a culture to help diagnose their lung infections. Also, current diagnostic tests, can take several days to produce results.
Three of the newly funded studies seek to establish novel approaches to detect infections that do not require as much sputum and generate test results more quickly. One study funded through the Initiative will investigate usage of a blood test to diagnose multiple types of pathogens; other studies are looking into urine samples as an alternative to sputum.
Novel approaches to antimicrobial resistance
Many people with CF have one or more pathogens that are resistant to antibiotic treatments, such as Pseudomonas. Bacteriophage (phage) therapy, in which viruses can be used to decrease lung inflammation caused by infections, has emerged as an area of research with the potential to fight some of these antibiotic-resistant infections.
As part of the Infection Research Initiative, the Foundation is funding more academic studies in phage than ever before. One study is researching phages to treat drug-resistant Pseudomonas infections found in sputum; another study intends to engineer phages that are active against a wider range of Burkholderia. Another project aims to create a library of phages that can kill a wide array of Burkholderia pathogens.
Tackling difficult-to-treat pathogens
Additional projects awarded focus on specific challenges facing people who have nontuberculous mycobacteria, fungal, Pseudomonas, and multi-organism infections.
Also, through the SARS-CoV-2 and Cystic Fibrosis Research Award, the Foundation will be funding research in 2021 to understand if there are underlying biological differences in the way people with CF may be infected by or respond to the novel coronavirus.
Learn more about infection research
On Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. ET, the Foundation will host an Infection Research Webinar that will provide attendees with a deep dive on some of the most promising infection research in the field.
Watch the Aug. 25 webinar.