Voices from DARPA
Episode 25: New Molecular Tactics for Pandemic Times
In this episode of Voices from DARPA, we turn again to Dr. Anne Fischer, a program manager since 2017 in the agency’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO), this time to learn how she has been swerving two of her programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those programs, Accelerating Molecular Discovery (AMD), centers on developing machine-learning and other computational techniques to dramatically streamline the discovery of molecules with properties relevant to the Department of Defense. Think here of chemical-warfare simulants for research, coatings that protect assets and personnel, specialty fuels, and medicines to counter emerging threats. With an eye on that last one, Dr. Fischer has been swerving some AMD work into an urgent hunt for molecules with previously unrecognized antibiotic properties. One specific target is new treatments for secondary, bacterial lung infections in patients with COVID-19. The other program Dr. Fischer is swerving into the COVID-19 response is Make-It. The program’s envisioned deliverables for the DoD include tabletop chemical-synthesis systems that can produce chemicals when and where they are needed. Think here of the ability to quickly synthesize pharmaceuticals in a battlefield setting. Think here also of a chemical-synthesis channel independent of globalized supply chains that can become compromised. Now, this capability for on-demand synthesis of chemical products, including antivirals and reagents for diagnostic tests, is revealing Make-It technology as a promising component of our ability to respond to emergencies such as outbreaks of infectious diseases.
For a previous discussion with Dr. Fischer about her background, interests, and long-term goals for the programs she manages, please listen to Episode 22, titled The Chemquistador.