Pharmacy professor wins $3M grant to combat drug-resistant superbugs

Zackery Bulman
Zackery Bulman, assistant professor of pharmacy practice.

Zackery Bulman, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, has received a $3.66 million, five-year grant to develop new antibiotic combination treatment approaches for drug-resistant superbugs, which can cause serious infections associated with high mortality rates.

Bulman is principal investigator on the project, titled “Precise Combination Strategies Targeting Carbapenem-Resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Superbugs such as the antibiotic-resistant bacterium K. pneumoniae, commonly found in the intestines, are considered a top priority by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization. According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million microbial-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, resulting in over 35,000 deaths. These pathogens also impose a large financial burden on society, costing the U.S. an estimated $2.8 billion per year.

Bulman’s project will strategically combine two different classes of antibiotics, beta-lactam/beta-lactamase inhibitors and aminoglycosides, to develop new, more personalized therapies for drug-resistant K. pneumoniae infections.

“There is a significant opportunity to improve the effects of aminoglycosides by selecting ones that are tailored to the patient’s isolate based on the pathogen’s resistance gene signature,” Bulman said. The project will also optimize antibiotic doses, timing and duration and will aim to better clarify the process of interaction between aminoglycosides and beta-lactams, which remain unclear.

The grant is also a significant milestone for the UIC Department of Pharmacy Practice.

“Dr. Bulman’s award is the largest R01 in the history of our department and will support advancing his important work to find much needed treatment options for drug-resistant superbugs,” said Edith Nutescu, head of the department.

This project is made possible through collaborations with renowned experts in antimicrobial pharmacology from around the world. Bulman leads a team that includes Alexander Mankin of UIC, Juergen Bulitta and Yinzhi Lang of the University of Florida, Alan Hauser and Egon Ozer of Northwestern University, and Jian Li of Monash University, Australia.

“The collective expertise of this team provides an unparalleled opportunity for us to be able to overcome some of the therapeutic challenges presented by these superbugs,” Bulman said.

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