Startups
Biotechnology / Health

How OpGen is using genetic testing to battle superbugs

The Gaithersburg-based biotech firm recently launched a DNA-based testing system for targeting antibiotic-resistant microbes. CEO Evan Jones even went to the White House to talk about the issue.

A still from the White House forum on antibiotic stewardship. (Screenshot via whitehouse.gov)

When antibiotics were created nearly 75 years ago, they were deemed a miracle drug. But over time, some microbes have built up a resistance.
The current nemesis of antibiotics are known as multi-drug resistant organisms or MDROs. Or, superbugs. They can be especially threatening at hospitals, where patients who are infected could transmit the superbugs to others.
“This miracle that we’ve had since the 1940s is potentially slipping away,” said Evan Jones, the CEO of Gaithersburg-based OpGen.
With regulations and testing, new drugs are still potentially several years away. Here’s a different approach:
“The other thing you can do is to try to find the organisms, prevent transmission and treat patients more effectively,” Jones said.
Last week, OpGen officially released a program that uses DNA-based testing and informatics to integrate lab test results, as well as data from other patients in the hospital.
The genetic testing methods were first used in developing cancer diagnostics.
“We’re taking that knowledge and applying it and refining it for fighting microbes in human healthcare,” Jones said.
The launch follows pilots at hospitals overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) near Chicago, and at the Cleveland Clinic. The full rollout of the system, known as Acuitas, is expected in the second half of 2015.
OpGen, which raised $17 million from an IPO in early May, believes it can help cut into the growing numbers of people who are dying from the infections.
And they aren’t the only ones working on the issue.
Along with the product launch, Jones went to the White House on June 2 to participate in a forum that addressed resistance to antibiotics. He was one of 150 people at the meeting representing people who work in the human and animal health communities.
Along with diagnostics companies and hospitals, Jones said the government also has a role to play in tracking data and making policy changes that would go toward driving down infection rates.
“There’s a carrot and stick approach that’s being developed by the government where they’re penalizing the worst performing hospitals and incentivizing hospitals to do better,” Jones said.
President Barack Obama also proposed funding for a national program to combat antibiotic resistance, but given the political climate it’s currently unclear if Congress will fund the budget item.

Companies: OpGen Inc.

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