Nowadays, the pharmaceutical industry rarely researches new antibiotics because the clinical development takes a long time and is very costly, while resistances can develop very quickly. That’s why clinical measures must be improved to preserve the effectiveness of existing antibiotics, prevent the development of resistances and combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Laboratory tests are the frontline defense for an existing infection. They identify the bacteria and antimicrobial resistance. These methods are referred to as phenotypic drug resistance testing: if a bacterial culture is able to survive and grow in the presence of one or more antibiotics, it indicates resistance, prompting the need to find another active ingredient.
"The drawback is that this test takes quite a long time, often between 16 and 48 hours," says Prof. Axel Hamprecht in an interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com. This is where diagnostic tests come into play as they rapidly provide answers with little effort. Hamprecht and his research group at the University Hospital Cologne have developed a test that detects bacteria that are resistant to the carbapenems class of antibiotics. These are enzymes that inactivate carbapenems, a class of the most effective last-resort antibiotics. "It works faster than phenotypic drug resistance testing. Our test allows us to identify carbapenemases within half an hour," explains Hamprecht.
The researchers from Cologne did not develop the actual rapid test but set up a rapid test process based on a commercially available, immunochromatographic assay. These types of tests are increasingly important as more and more people travel around the world along with resistance mechanisms. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are presently on the rise in Western and Central Europe for example.
The InfectoGnostics Research Campus in Jena develops a device-based test procedure that uses Raman spectroscopy. The Campus is a public-private partnership that enables close collaboration between researchers from the fields of medicine, sciences, and industry. During the next five years of funding, the scientists focus on testing methods that diagnose pneumonia bacteria in immunosuppressed patients. "We illuminate the bacteria with laser light - once without antibiotics and once with antibiotics in different concentrations - and analyze the backscattered light," says Prof. Jürgen Popp, Member of the Executive Board and Campus spokesperson in an interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com. An algorithm is used to detect characteristic fingerprinting patterns in the spectrum of backscattered light, which point to molecules present in the bacteria, indicating possible resistance mechanisms.
Prof. Mathias Pletz of the University Hospital Jena adds: "Physicians urgently need advances in diagnostics. Without accurate pathogen detection, we might mistreat the patient and – in the worst-case scenario - cause his death." The public-private partnership provides a key advantage in this setting: physicians are in touch with industry developers right from the start. This ensures that their needs and requirements promptly flow into the product development process, allowing them to ultimately have a testing system that is cost-effective and can easily be integrated into clinical practice.