Diagnostics

MeMed gets $9.2M to develop tools to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections

The ultimate goal of MeMed is to right-size antibiotic use. The team is working on a second-generation platform that gets results in minutes and that anyone can use.

Bacteria culture and susceptibility test antibiotic resistance

Israeli diagnostics company MeMed was just awarded $9.2 million from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to develop a faster instrument to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections. The new machine builds on the company’s ImmunoXpert platform, which measures host proteins to characterize pathogens.

“There’s a war going on in the body and there’s an immune response,” said MeMed CEO and co-founder Eran Eden in a phone interview. “Is the body activating the antiviral Navy Seals or the antibacterial Rangers?”

The ultimate goal is to right-size antibiotic use. All too often, patients receive antibiotics for viral infections, which contributes to antibiotic resistance. A 2016 report by the British Government and the Wellcome Trust estimated resistance could cost the world $100 trillion by 2050.

“If you lose antibiotics, you lose modern medicine,” said Eden. “Without them, you cannot undergo simple surgery or treat a cancer patient who would die because of a suppressed immune response.”

The most prevalent technology – culturing pathogens to ID them – has shortcomings. The process is slow; the pathogens are not always easy to procure, such as an ear infection behind the tympanic membrane; and it doesn’t always provide actionable information.

“Even if it’s fast and accessible and you’re able to identify, let’s say, a rhinovirus – who cares? Every second child has a rhinovirus in their nose,” said Eden. “The mere detection does not imply causality of disease, and that creates a lot of false alarms.”

Eden and fellow co-founder and CTO Kfir Oved leveraged their experience studying cancer immunotherapies to reverse engineer the immune response to identify pathogens. Turns out, if we ask nicely, the body will tell us what’s going on.

“We look at soluble proteins, and these have biological properties you can measure in minutes, so we don’t have to wait,” says Eden. “We can characterize inaccessible infections because the immune system goes everywhere.”

The MeMed platform uses a three-protein combination to assess pathogens – TRAIL, IP-10 and C-reactive protein. The technology has been validated in large studies, but it’s not perfect. It cannot identify the bug’s exact strain, for example. Also, the technology isn’t fast or easy enough: the current iteration takes around two hours and requires a technician, hardly ideal for an emergency room.

The MeMed team is working on a second-generation platform that gets results in minutes and that anyone can use. They hope the DTRA funding will accelerate the development process.

“From day one, we imagined a small benchtop device,” said Eden. “You put in a drop of blood and within a few minutes it gives the physician all the information they need to decide bacterial or viral infection. The next generation ImmunoXpert measures the same three proteins and uses the same algorithm, but it’s plug and play, and it’s less than 15 minutes.”

Photo: jarun011, Getty Images