Simple DNA Test Spots Deadly MRSA Bacteria; Adnavance Aims To Take It Mainstream

11/10/08Follow @xconomy

If San Diego-based Adnavance Technologies plays its cards right, it won’t be long before it’s selling a simple DNA test that will tell doctors within a couple hours whether their patients have a potentially deadly MRSA bacterial infection. There will be no more need to send samples to a highly-skilled technician running an expensive DNA amplification machine for half a day, or wait three to four days to get results back from an outside contract laboratory.

I heard this vision for a faster, cheaper way to detect MRSA infections from Adnavance’s CEO, V. Randy White. He’s a 35-year veteran of the diagnostics business, who previously led San Diego-based Nanogen (NASDAQ: NGEN) and Xenomics.

MRSA, or drug-resistant bacteria, is a fast-growing problem in U.S. hospitals. It represents almost two-thirds of hospital-acquired infections, and is fatal about 18 percent of the time, White says. Only about one-third of U.S. healthcare facilities have labs certified and staffed to run DNA amplification tests needed to identify these bugs, so most of the time, doctors ship out a sample to a contract lab like Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp of America. Then they wait three or four days for the result. While they wait, fearing the worst, many doctors put patients on vancomycin antibiotics even if it isn’t necessary, which contributes to resistance, White says.

“If you suspect MRSA, you can’t just sit around and wait,” White says.

Adnavance’s approach is different from the traditional amplication process, known as polymerase chain reaction, in favor of what it calls “direct detection.” This involves looking directly at the DNA sequence of a bug to see if it carries a genetic hallmark of drug resistance. This machine can work faster because it can get a definitive reading based on a small amount of sample from a patient, without having to go through amplification steps, White says. A couple other companies, Nanosphere of Northbrook, IL, and Nanomix of Emeryville, CA are also working on direct DNA detection methods. “There’s a race to be first, and I hope we’re it,” White says.

Adnavance was founded in Vancouver, BC, in 2002 based on discoveries of Jeremy Lee, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. It is backed by a trio of Canadian venture firms—GrowthWorks, JovInvestment Management, and the Business Development Bank of Canada. White joined the company in February to lead it out of research and into the commercial phase, on the condition that it be based in San Diego, where he lives. That also enables him to recruit from a deeper talent pool of people with skills in regulatory affairs and product development for diagnostics. The company now has 12 employees, he says.

The Adnavance test still isn’t completely ready for prime time, and its team is finishing up modifications before it goes ahead with full-bore product development, White says. … Next Page »

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