It takes about three days for a lab to identify the exact bacteria that has caused a patient's urinary tract infection, one of the most common infections acquired in U.S. hospitals. Most physicians don't want to leave a patient untreated and in pain for that long, so they make an educated guess when they choose an antibiotic to administer.
The odds the physician will pick the right one should be high. After all, about 80% of UTIs are caused by E. coli. But some E. coli strains have built a resistance to commonly used medications. For example, E. coli strains will fight back in about 30% of patients prescribed the drug Cipro.
“A doctor suspects, but he doesn't have the means to determine right away what species the bug actually belongs to,” said Dr. Evgeni Sokurenko, founder of ID Genomics, a startup company that intends to allow physicians to quickly detect specific types of UTIs and the best antibiotics used to treat them.
Launched in 2013, ID Genomics decodes UTIs in less than 30 minutes by analyzing the genes that are present and those that are not. The test assigns a unique fingerprint to the bacterial strains, allowing physicians to determine the precise makeup of a UTI infection based on the combination of genes. Meanwhile, the company is creating a database of the bacterial fingerprints matched with information about how those strains have responded to particular drugs.
“It is like we are creating a criminal dossier of bacterial strains,” he said. “Just based on the fingerprint we can already say what is the best way to deal with it and what antibiotics should be used.”
Sokurenko began his work assessing antibiotic resistance among infections about 25 years ago. He developed the basis of ID Genomics as a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington, where he still teaches full time. ID Genomics employs 10 people and most of its financial backing has come from a $3 million National Institutes of Health grant awarded last month.