Ton Loontjens and Jurr van Ramshorst (Source: NoordZ)
One in twenty patients contracts a hospital-acquired infection. In Europe, this translates to approximately four million cases each year, resulting in around 90,000 fatalities and a healthcare cost of about 7 billion euros. Notably, more than two-thirds of these infections stem from medical devices such as catheters, infusions, and implants.
This situation calls for a change, and change is precisely what the Groningen-based start-up Bioprex Medical is achieving. As a spin-off from the Faculty of Science & Engineering at the University of Groningen, the company has developed a coating with the ability to kill bacteria. Applying it to medical devices can significantly mitigate these issues.
The brain behind this innovative start-up is Professor Ton Loontjens, who has spent a lifetime working on coatings. About a decade ago, he had a breakthrough moment, successfully anchoring antibacterial components onto surfaces. This approach, which he has patented, surpasses the conventional release of disinfectants since nothing is released into the body.
Bioprex employs quaternary ammonium compounds to combat bacteria. These positively charged particles infiltrate the walls of negatively charged bacteria, causing their demise. While soluble quaternary ammonium compounds have been used effectively in disinfectants for eighty years, the challenge was making them effective when anchored to a surface. Here, the innovation lies in strengthening the positive charge on the surface, attracting and essentially flattening bacteria.
The coating, consisting of three layers, has been continually refined and tested, first by university researchers and more recently by Bioprex employees. The first layer serves as a primer for adhesion to implants, while the second provides strength and stability. The third, and most crucial, layer contains the active antibacterial substance.
This innovation holds great promise for hospitals seeking to combat infections and for manufacturers of implants and other medical devices. The challenge now is to transform this valuable discovery into a viable business model. Pieter André de la Porte, Director of Zorg Innovaties Nederland, joined the project eight years ago, and in 2020, Jurr van Ramshorst came on board to help make Bioprex a profitable enterprise.
Van Ramshorst mentions that much of their current effort involves engaging with global stakeholders, convincing them of the coating’s added value, and conducting further research. Collaborating with Amsterdam UMC, they are conducting tests in mice to demonstrate the coating’s effectiveness and safety. This data will provide compelling reasons for medical device manufacturers to collaborate with them.
Bioprex’s coating isn’t a product that will soon be found on the shelves of specialized wholesalers; it’s more complex. The coating will need to find its place in the production processes of implant manufacturers, who must invest in this technology and convince their customers, namely hospitals and doctors, to use the coated products.
In the medical industry, start-ups often face slow growth. Bioprex Medical hopes to secure its first collaboration deal in the coming year. Professor Loontjens emphasizes that it will take a few more years before they are fully operational. With ongoing mouse trials and successful tests showing the feasibility of applying the coating on a large scale, Bioprex is doing everything it can. Subsequently, it will be up to medical device manufacturers to conduct further clinical studies with their coating. Their confidence is high because alternative methods are far less effective, and the use of antibiotics is becoming an increasingly significant problem due to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Their method provides a solution to both challenges.