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A New Weapon in the War Against Antibiotic Resistance

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GFC Diagnostics has recently been awarded a Longitude Prize Discovery Award, for the development of a cheap, quick and simple MRSA test. To learn more about the test and how it could be used in the fight against antibiotic resistance, we spoke to Bruce Savage, CEO at GFC Diagnostics.

AM: Can you give us a little background of the Longitude Prize Discovery Award and its goals? 

BS: The Longitude Prize is a £10 million prize which will be awarded for a diagnostic test that helps solve the problem of global antibiotic resistance. The challenge is to develop a novel, affordable and rapid point-of-care test that could be used anywhere in the world to determine when antibiotics should be used. 

The origins of the prize go back to 1714 when the British government threw down the gauntlet to solve the greatest scientific challenge of the time – how to accurately pinpoint a ship’s location at sea. Without an accurate method for determining longitude, the Navy had been blighted by accidents including one when over 1,400 sailors died off the Isle of Scilly in 1707. The first Longitude Prize was for £20,000 (today's value £2,080,000) and won by John Harrison who was actually awarded £10,000 for his marine chronometer. 

In 2014, marking the 300th anniversary year of the Longitude Act, Nesta, the innovation foundation launched a £10 million prize fund, supported by Innovate UK, to develop a rapid diagnostic to help tackle antimicrobial resistance.

The Discovery Award just won by GFC Diagnostics is an award of a grant which will help us to develop our test for a submission for the Longitude Prize.

AM: Can you tell us more about the test?

BS: The MicroScreen test detects the gene inside the DNA in the bacteria and no-one has ever done that before. The test is quick, cheap and easy to conduct outside the laboratory and by people without specialist technical training. 

The test can provide results within half an hour which means that we can provide effective pre-operative screening for MRSA even for emergencies for hospital A&E departments which is where we see it being most used first. 


AM: What advantages does MicroScreen offer over current tests?     

BS: Other PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests split the bacteria to release the DNA. They are much more complex and expensive. They are a great deal more technical, require very expensive equipment and take much longer to provide results - up to three days. The existing tests aren’t fast or cheap enough to tackle the problem of widespread prescription of broad spectrum antibiotics to combat MRSA in emergency situations. 

AM: Can you tell us more about the problem of antibiotic resistance, and the role MicroScreen can play in tackling this?

BS: Antibiotic resistance is widely regarded as one of the most significant challenges of our age. (This is the reason it has been chosen for a Longitude Prize). The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotics treatment has added an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But in the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, our overuse of antibiotics has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.

In his report commissioned by David Cameron, Lord Jim O’Neill said that “We are already seeing the consequences of AMR, with estimates of around 50,000 deaths per year recently in Europe and the US, due to antibiotic resistant infections, and far greater numbers worldwide” and predicted that “We could be seeing 10 million deaths per year caused by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in 2050”.

The O’Neill Report arrived at a number of conclusions. One was that antibiotics should only be prescribed when there was evidence of a bacterial infection which demanded the availability of rapid, simple to use tests for bacteria, of which none exist. 

Clinicians often prescribe broad spectrum antibiotics to sick patients because doctors have to act quickly to prevent infection but without enough information. These methods have put selective pressure on microbes to evolve resistance to antibiotics. 

Prescriptions from clinicians are just one way in which people access antibiotics, however. There are many routes to these drugs and they vary around the world. We find that in countries where antibiotics are widely available over the counter there is a bigger problem of incidence of CPE which is the next nightmare bug after MRSA. 

AM: What challenges need to be overcome before home tests for bacterial infections are widely available?

BS: We don’t see the test as becoming available for use at home and wouldn’t recommend it. There are many problems associated with the AIDS and HIV home test kits currently available and the NHS doesn’t recommend using them. However our test is being developed so that it can be used outside the laboratory and wherever they are needed to be carried out by anyone without technical training. All the instructions and everything you need is in the box.  

At GFC Diagnostics our challenge is to develop the test so that it can become widely available around the globe.  We hope to find a commercial partner who we can work with to achieve this goal. Winning the Longitude Prize Discover Award validates the importance and credibility of our work as well as a financial award which will help our work. 

Bruce Savage was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks.

For further information you can contact Bruce at brucesavage@btinternet.com or visit www.gfcdiangnostics.com