According to Greek mythology, “the wound that would not heal” was inflicted by the intemperate warrior Achilles when he fell upon Telephus, son of Hercules, after invading an allied kingdom in the mistaken belief that he had landed at Troy. Terrible was Achilles’s spear, and terrible was the wound that would not heal.
Telephus recovered only after clever Odysseus intervened, persuading Achilles to use his spear to heal the wound. An oracle had declared that Telephus could only be cured by the thing that had wounded him.
If only it was that easy in modern medicine.
Nevertheless, a new San Diego startup hopes to build its own mythology—invoking Telephus as its namesake in developing a new therapy for a terrible and often intractable infection. Nowadays, the wound that does not heal is also known as the nightmare of orthopedics—a bacterial infection in an implanted prosthetic joint.
Fortunately, studies have shown the infection rate is low. Of 330,000 total hip replacements done in the United States each year, the infection rate is typically less than 2 percent. Of 670,000 total knee replacements done annually, the infection rate is about 2 to 3 percent. A variety of risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can worsen the odds.
But once an infection takes root in a prosthetic joint, it can be extremely difficult to eradicate. Such infections range from a chronic, low-grade local inflammation to acute, fulminant systemic sepsis. In some cases, it can lead to bone loss and loosening of the implant—and in extreme cases, amputation. The costs also are exorbitant. Total treatment costs of a septic hip implant typically run four to six times the cost of the primary procedure (which has an average cost of roughly $25,000)—with a re-infection rate that still ranges from 30 to 50 percent.
So preventing—or at least reducing—the recurrence of so-called prosthetic joint infections represents a huge unmet medical need and potentially major savings. Telephus Medical, a San Diego biotech, was founded just over a year ago to address this need. The pre-clinical startup plans to … Next Page »