Nanosphere Develops Desktop Gene-Reader
Scientists at Nanosphere Inc are working on a device that could revolutionize pharmacogenomic testing for patients with heart stents, whose genetic compatibility with the commonly prescribed blood-thinning agent Plavix (clopidogrel bisulfate) may mean the difference between a smooth post-op recovery and increased risk of cardiac events. Research has uncovered certain commonly occurring gene variants that can compromise the ability to metabolize the drug, increasing risk of stroke and heart attack.
Currently, pharmacogenomic screening can take up to 2 days. Nanosphere’s technology, called the Verigene system, is capable of performing similar tests in a fraction of the time.
The FDA-approved device starts with a plastic cartridge, into which the patient’s blood sample is injected. Inside, a system of chambers houses all the chemical reagents needed to run an individual DNA test. The test cartridge is analyzed and results are displayed on a screen, a process that takes 2 minutes.
The developers say more research is needed to assess the system’s accuracy. If successful, the device would allow for genetic evaluation while patients wait, and a determination whether to prescribe Plavix or pursue alternatives.
Foundation Greenlights Artificial Pancreas Project
Although insulin pumps and glucose monitoring devices help, diabetics are burdened with a condition that requires constant attention to properly manage. With support from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), scientists at Johnson & Johnson are working to relieve that burden with a wireless system that combines traditional diabetic equipment with high-tech communications software.
The device, called the “artificial pancreas,” is still in the planning phases. JDRF has dedicated $8 million to the project, and developers expect to have the first version ready for review within the next 4 years. Ideally, the artificial pancreas would involve 2 devices strapped to the body: a monitor to check blood sugar and an insulin delivery system. Through the use of software, the 2 devices would talk seamlessly to each other, mimicking the body’s communication system to automatically regulate blood sugar.
A Promising Vista for Medication Safety
The Institute of Medicine estimates that more than 1.5 million incidents of preventable harm from medications occur every year. Many of these incidents are the result of health care professionals having inadequate or inaccurate information about a patient. Through its Safe Use Initiative, the FDA aims to reduce that number by using existing knowledge to identify and manage prescription drug risk. The agency has recently partnered with research organization Biovista Inc, whose technology platform records and analyzes the connections between certain drugs, diseases, and harmful side effects. Experts from both organizations will work closely with Biovista’s Adverse Events Analysis (AEA) technology to examine a series of drugs that have been targeted for their association with serious side effects. With the ability to cross-correlate over 8000 diseases and 12,000 known adverse events against any drug or combination and generate concise reports, the AEA platform has the potential to help health care providers predict negative reactions in certain patients and examine the causes of adverse events after they occur.
PharmaSecure Enables SMS-based Sleuthing to Detect Counterfeits
Drug counterfeiting is a growing problem in developing markets, where lax regulations, weak enforcement of laws, and other factors can make it relatively easy for counterfeit medicine to be distributed to customers over the Internet, by mail, and in pharmacies. Dartmouth students and entrepreneurs Nathan Sigworth and Taylor Thompson teamed up in 2007 to tackle the issue and have since developed PharmaSecure, a textmessage– based system for detecting counterfeit medications.
As reported by the World Health Organization, accurate estimates on counterfeit medicine are difficult to obtain because a unified system for identifying them has not been established. PharmaSecure aims to do just that by linking customers with drug manufacturers via Short Message Service (SMS) technology, available on any mobile phone.
To determine whether medicine purchased from a drugstore is counterfeit, customers find a code printed on the back of the blister pack. Using a cell phone, they enter the code and the words “drug check” into a text message and send it to the number 41411. The message is transmitted to a database in the United States, which quickly responds with a text telling the patient whether the drug is valid.
To ensure security and accuracy, PharmaSecure works with drug companies to code medications at the point of manufacture. The system is not yet available for use by consumers, but a commercial pilot is scheduled for spring 2010. ■