The federal grant will create a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) to address the worldwide threat of drug-resistant  'superbugs'

Eleftherios Mylonakis, MD, and Kiho Lee, PhD, are infectious diseases researchers at The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital. Dr. Mylonakis is the lead researcher on a National Institutes of Health grant focused on 'superbugs.'

The increasing worldwide threat of drug-resistance pathogens will be the focus of a new research center to be established at The Miriam Hospital thanks to a $9.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The five-year grant to create an NIH Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) will allow researchers at The Miriam Hospital; its Lifespan affiliate, Rhode Island Hospital; and Brown University to delve into the causes of antibiotic resistance and identify potential new drugs.

“Resistance to antimicrobial therapies is a national and international crisis that threatens clinical practice from primary care to the most advanced medical interventions like organ transplantation and cancer chemotherapy. Infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria are major problems in the community and in inpatient health care settings. According to data from the CDC, more than 2 million people suffer infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the United States and at least 23,000 people die as a result,” said Eleftherios Mylonakis, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital and the principal investigator for the new center.

“Despite this clinical and financial burden, the supply of new antibiotics from major pharmaceutical companies has diminished dramatically in recent years. New research from laboratories at academic institutions, however, demonstrates there are promising alternative approaches to understand antibiotic resistance and discover new antimicrobial agents.”

This is the second COBRE grant received by a Lifespan affiliate in as many months. In August, Rhode Island Hospital received an $11.8 million, five-year grant for a COBRE to study ways to curb the opioid epidemic sweeping across Rhode Island and the nation. In all, Lifespan affiliates are the main institutions for five ongoing COBREs, with total funding of more than $42.7 million.

 “When it comes to addressing the largest public health issues of our time, some of the most important research is taking place right here in Rhode Island at Lifespan-affiliated hospitals,” said Timothy J. Babineau, MD, president and CEO of Lifespan. “I’m proud that we have been able to recruit and retain renowned experts whose efforts are being rewarded with the resources they need to fight disease and illness. Our ability to secure these grants not only allows these researchers and their staffs to carry out their vital work but also helps support investment and jobs in Rhode Island’s growing knowledge and healthcare economies.”

The new Center for Antimicrobial Resistance and Therapeutic Discovery (CARTD) will foster the work of existing researchers while encouraging junior investigators to devote their talents toward this growing public health issue. Its multidisciplinary approach will build on existing research at The Miriam Hospital and Lifespan to create an innovative, state-of-the-art biomedical research center that can serve as a resource for other researchers and investigators in the region.

The following are among the up-and-coming researchers already identified as CARTD researchers:

  • Beth Fuchs, a researcher at Rhode Island Hospital and assistant professor at Brown, who will use laboratory roundworms to study methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the most commonly recognized drug-resistant pathogens, or “superbugs.” She will investigate the potential treatment effectiveness of the anti-inflammatory compound auranofin and the medicinal herb extract shikonin.
  •  Peter Belencky, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Brown, who will study the impacts of antibiotics on a body’s microbial community, the microbiome, to better understand the mechanisms that promote drug resistance.

Mylonakis is a highly regarded researcher on antimicrobial resistance. Earlier this year, a team that he led published a study in Nature on the identification of retinoids as a new class of antibiotics in the fight against drug resistance. He is a clinical physician for Lifespan and Brown Medicine and the Charles C.J. Carpenter Professor of Infectious Disease at Brown’s Alpert Medical School.

The intent of federal COBRE grants is to establish leadership and mentorship by experienced researchers, overseeing and supporting the work of three to five junior investigators  in thematic, multidisciplinary centers, until those researchers establish a body of work to enable them to secure their own independent funding. Over the possible 15-year span of COBRE’s three phases, this builds the institution’s capacity and expertise in a given area. Today’s announcement is for a phase one COBRE grant.

A letter supporting the application for the COBRE grant was signed by all four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation.

“This federal funding can help advance understanding of antibiotic resistance and lead to breakthroughs to combat the rise of drug-resistant infections,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee who helped lead efforts to secure funding for NIH’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which funds COBRE grants, in the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations law.  “This competitive award will also help boost the state’s growing biomedical research industry and support collaboration and innovation.”

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “We need top researchers working on the growing threat of superbugs. That’s why I’m glad to see Rhode Island host this center of excellence to discover new antibiotics and fight drug-resistant pathogens. I’m proud to join my colleagues in the delegation to support this funding for Rhode Island researchers’ groundbreaking work.”

“This grant award will aid important research to tackle drug-resistant infections and will support Rhode Island’s biomedical industry,” said Congressman James Langevin. “I commend the talented researchers at Lifespan and Brown University for their innovative work in this space, and I congratulate them on securing these extremely competitive federal funds.”

Congressman David Cicilline said, “It’s incredibly exciting that Lifespan has secured another COBRE grant in a matter of months. Winning this award speaks to the quality of researchers in Rhode Island. The $9.4 million grant will support important research aimed at understanding resistance to antimicrobial therapies, which is a serious and imminent issue that affects the global community.”

Richard Salit

Senior Public Relations Officer

The Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital, Gateway Healthcare


[email protected]