New Diagnostic Tools Emerge in War Against Superbugs
Aim of rapid-diagnosis technologies is to reduce unnecessary prescription of antibiotics.
A new front is emerging in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs—one that doesn’t involve the development of new drugs.
Companies are racing to develop diagnostic technologies that can be used by hospitals and clinics to pinpoint the cause of common infections quickly. That should cut down on the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics, a major driver of drug-resistance in bacteria.
Traditional diagnostic testing via specialist laboratories can take several days to deliver results, so doctors who want to prescribe an immediate remedy often use a patient’s symptoms to guess what is causing an illness. More than a quarter of the time, this leads to antibiotics being prescribed unnecessarily, according to a 2013 study in the U.S. published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. In respiratory infections, two thirds of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, according to the same study.
Now, a new market is opening up for diagnostics that can be used outside of specialist labs, and it is growing at a steady clip. The U.S. market for so-called point-of-care diagnostics for infectious disease stands at $533 million and is growing 7% a year, according to Divyaa Ravishankar, an analyst at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
There is pent-up demand for tests that can return results quickly, said Nicholas Jansen, an analyst at Raymond James. “There’s always been a desire by hospitals and government agencies to minimize the use of antibiotics,” he said. “But the problem was that there wasn’t a technology available…that would make it cost-effective.”
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said the tool that doctors want most is one that can test for several potential culprits simultaneously.
BioFire Diagnostics Inc., a Salt Lake City-based division of France’s bioMérieux SA, makes one such device. Its test looks for several pathogens at once, depending on the type of infection, and produces results in about an hour. Sales of these devices, which cost $35,000 apiece, more than doubled in the past year, according to company filings.