Vail investors make ‘superbug’ test possible
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Staph infections have been making the news more often in recent years. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd are just a few of the famous people who contracted them.
Now, a group of Vail investors are doing their part to make sure staph infections are identified sooner and treated properly.
About 30 people with connections to Vail have pooled their money so MicroPhage Inc. in Longmont could make a quick, user-friendly staph infection test.
The company recently got permission to sell the test outside the United States, and expects to get clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this coming spring to sell it to hospitals in the United States, said Scott Conlin, director of marketing for MicroPhage.
While most tests on the market take three to four days to identify a staph infection, MicroPhage’s version takes just five hours, he said.
“I think we’re going to have a giant positive impact on mortality rates with staph infections,” Conlin said.
The test shows whether the patient’s staph infection is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. That strain is resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat staph.
Testing for MRSA in hours instead of days is important, especially since the infections can be fatal, said Jeanine Thomas, founder of the national MRSA Survivors’ Network based in Chicago, Ill.
“MRSA is very virulent,” she said. “It replicates fast, so you want to be on the right antibiotic as soon as possible. If someone came in very sick or elderly, they could die before they get the results back.”
The MicroPhage test uses viruses that infect bacteria to identify the staph bacteria. Instead of trying to grow staph in a petri dish to study it, the test introduces the viruses into a blood sample and look to see whether viruses multiply. If the viruses fail to disappear or multiply after an antibiotic is added, that means the staph strain is resistant to that antibiotic.
The speedy test is important for two reasons, Conlin said. Doctors waste less time prescribing a specific antibiotic for the staph infection. In turn, that cuts down on the amount of time patients spend taking a broad spectrum antibiotic – and potentially developing antibiotic resistance. It also means patients could spend less time taking a wrong antibiotic that won’t help their infection.
MicroPhage plans to market the test to hospitals, Conlin said. It’s appealing because reading the results does not require special equipment or a trained specialist, he said. MicroPhage recently submitted results from clinical trials for the test to the FDA.
Staph infections are becoming increasingly common, Thomas said.
“It’s already endemic in hospitals but now there are community-acquired strains,” she said. “They like warm, moist areas: Gyms, fitness centers, daycare centers, grocery stores.”
Staph is a bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people, said Becky Larson, Eagle County’s epidemiologist. Staph is the most common cause of skin infections, she said. The infections often look like a spider bite, Larson said. More serious infections can lead to pneumonia or blood stream infections, she said.
About 1.2 million patients in the United States each year may be infected with MRSA , and 119,000 people may die from each year, according to a study the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. released in 2007.
Vail Valley resident Celine Krueger was having trouble with her heart, and opted for a valve surgery about three years ago, her son, Eagle-Vail resident Karl Krueger recalled.
“We all felt like it was worth the risk, that she would feel better, more energetic and really live the way she wanted to live,” he said.
Celine Krueger responded well to the surgery, but a few months later she died of something else: an infection that started in the chest wound. Karl Krueger said he never really knew what the infection was or whether it may have been staph.
That mystery stayed with him, and when Krueger and his family heard about a group developing a test for staph infections, they decided to get involved.
“We thought, that’s something we have first-hand experience with: the uncertainty,” he said. “We thought it would be good to put money on something good for the world and say, ‘How can we test quicker so we don’t misuse antibiotics?'”
The Kruegers are among about 100 investors called the Alpine Angels club. The club put up a combined $14 million to fund the Microphage project.
Cordillera resident Gary Mesch said his club invests in project that not only have profit potential, but could also help people.
“They want to invest in things that have an impact,” he said. “Things that they’re proud of.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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