Have you ever taken an antibiotic you had in your medicine cabinet – just in case? Many times you weren’t sure it was the right kind of medication, or dose, or even if you had an infection at all, but you thought it wouldn’t hurt. Well, the truth is, globally, drug-resistant germs (pathogens) are one of the biggest problems facing the medical community.
Taking the wrong type of antibiotics has created a growing incidence of “super bugs” that don’t respond or die when treated with commonly used antibiotics. So, many physicians are finding it more and more difficult to prescribe something that will kill what ails the patient. Because of research and legal costs, companies are finding it challenging to discover and commercialize new medications that help.
The good news? PathoGene, LLC, a Flagstaff-based molecular diagnostics company located in the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies (NACET), will validate and market diagnostic procedures for clinical use that will provide physicians with essential information for timely and accurate treatment of
several infectious diseases. PathoGene has completed its first round of financing and has raised $750,000 – 150 percent of its stated goal of $500,000. This new venture combines the talents of top scientists, successful laboratory managers and experienced biotech executives.
According to PathoGene’s president, Todd Snowden, “These officials are using licensed technology from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) as a launching pad for building a successful business.”
PathoGene will take the work accomplished by a variety of nonprofit institutions, like NAU, and then figure out how to license the lab procedure to the medical marketplace. “Commercialization needs good products, but a lot of good stuff fails due to bad business models. With the extremely robust research efforts at NAU and TGen, what was missing was the commercialization component. PathoGene was founded to fill that gap,” said Dr. Paul Keim. He is a founding board member and the director of the Pathogen Genomics Division of TGen and a Regents Professor at NAU.
Keim says PathoGene will be licensing testing procedures to eventually improve patient treatments and lower healthcare costs. If physicians can make the right decision about what drug to administer the first time they see a patient, then there may be fewer doctor or hospital visits down the road and less cost to patients.
“These types of companies are termed ‘accelerator’ companies, as they increase the speed and likelihood that something will actually become useful for enhancing human health. With our regulatory system, this is very close to impossible for traditional academic institutions,” Keim explained.
PathoGene is especially interested in working with scientists who study the DNA(hereditary material) of pathogens, looking at what makes the germs dangerous, and what will wipe them out. Other than antibiotic research, Snowden says PathoGene is focused on drug-resistant pathogens including Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), which he says is a common “super bug” and potentially deadly hospital-based infection that kills 19,000 people in the United States every year. He adds that is more than the number who die from HIV or AIDS. He also says the estimated cost of treating these infections is approximately $2.6 billion a year in the United States alone.
Snowden says a great thing about PathoGene is that the founders and management team are all from Flagstaff and 80 percent of the seed money came from Flagstaff residents, former residents or friends of current residents. No pharmaceutical companies are financially involved. He says that the supporters are people who care about the economic vitality of Flagstaff and want to help it prosper. Plus, he insists it’s a good investment.
PathoGene was founded in 2008, and has been located at NACET since April. The for-profit company is in discussions with several groups to begin licensing scientific procedures and testing. By December, Snowden estimates he will have two scientists on staff with him. Within five years, he says, they expect between 10 and 15 employees and a payroll of about $1.8 million. FbN