Company hopes to combat superbugs

August 4, 2008 7:27:00 PM PDT
A Bay Area biotech company believes it may have a new way of killing so-called superbugs, the antibiotic resistant germs spreading through hospitals across the country. The key agent is something taken from human body's own immune system.

For Ron Najafi, Ph.D., it's like watching the perfect murder.

"The white blood cell is chasing the bacteria. It's ignoring the red blood cells, so it chases the bacteria until it catches it," said Najafi.

But it's the weapon of choice he's really interested in.

"Now it is producing chlorine-generating molecules, similar to bleach and destroys it. That's what we're doing here," said Najafi.

Najafi's company, Novabay, based in Emeryville, is creating synthetic versions of the same molecules your white blood cells use to kill germs.

He says the goal is to take on newer strains of bacteria which have grown resistant to regular antibiotics.

"We are doing that topically by pouring the solution or gel ointment of top of bacteria and eventually we can deliver more of this molecule than the white blood cells can," said Najafi.

The compound, dubbed NVC-422, is being tested for both cuts and skin infections and also as a nasal spray.

The hope is that it can protect hospital patients from so-called superbugs like MSRA, a drug-resistant staphylococcus that has turned up in facilities across the country.

If NVC-422 is successful, its creators believe it could help usher in a new era of medicines that bacteria and viruses do not become resistant to.

Medicines that kill germs on the outside of the body, in much the same way our immune system does on the inside, without giving them the chance to mutate.

"Because antibiotics invariably are creating more resistances. So if we use less antibiotics we'll be better off," said Najafi.

The nasal version of NVC-422 is in the second phase clinical trial right now and it could become available in the next three-to-five years.


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