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9 May, 2007 - 10:16 By Staff Reporter

Suffolk role in hi-tech solution to fight vCJD

The NHS is considering the adoption of a new technology, developed in collaboration with a Suffolk firm, which combats the human form of mad cow disease, vCJD and halts the spread of the killer disease in humans.

DuPont-owned Antec International has developed a triple-action treatment capable of destroying the notoriously resilient protein ‘prions,’ the cause of vCJD, which can persist on surgical equipment and medical devices following traditional sterilisation techniques.

The newly developed technology is “waiting for NHS adoption,” said Antec’s technical director, Dr Vince Croud.

The NHS is “aware of the technology” and “analysing the risk and considering its cost options for adoption of the treatment,” he said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Government scientific advisory committee on CJD advised in August 2006 on methods to evaluate decontamination tec-hnologies for surgical instruments.

“Relyon Prion is such a decontamination technology and we will be asking the Department’s engineering and science advisory committee to review this and similar products.”

The new product, Rely-On Prion, is the result of the Sudbury-based company’s collaboration with the MRC and prion specialist biomedical company, D-Gen.

The research-based biomedical innovator in the field of prion-related disease, such as vCJD and BSE, spun-out in 2000 and counts Imperial College, the MRC, The Wellcome Trust and Bristol University among its shareholders.

The number of cases in Europe is growing, with 22 confirmed cases in France and 165 in the UK since the disease was recognised, as well as a new BSE-type of cross-infection from wild deer appearing in the US, giving a worldwide scope for application of the new technology.

Antec plans to “pursue international opportunities,” according to Croud.

There has been concern that the condition can be transferred between humans as a result of prion proteins persisting on surgical tools between operations, with central nervous system and posterior eye surgery procedures carrying the highest risk.

The problems faced while fighting cross-contamination of the disease have primarily been the offending protein’s strong affinity for surgical metal and the difficulty associated with destroying the protein.

“The protein binds strongly to surfaces,” said Croud.

“It also has a structure which is very hard to break down. It is highly resistant to heat and chemical sterilisation techniques.”

Rely-on Prion makes headway into these areas where previous treatments have failed.

“Many treatments operate at extremes of temperature or pH, or over long time periods, making them impractical for regular use,” said Croud.

“Rely-On uses a combination of three components, giving multiple attack points and operates under reasonable conditions.”

On the new market for prion inactivators, Prof Thomas, of Rely-On collaborator, D-Gen, said:“There is another one coming to market made by Steris.

“The disadvantage is that it works at a very high level of alkalinity, with a ph of over 12, which is like caustic soda and very corrosive, so there are worries about its use with delicate surgical instruments.

“Another product, made by Gencore, is not available yet while the DuPont Amtech product was out last week.

“The market could be huge, potentially covering all surgical instruments and we hope to sell several million eventually.”

Rely-On Prion, based on a sterilisation technique developed by the MRC’s Prion Unit, uses two proteolytic enzymes identified by the MRC as the most effective at prion destruction, to decontaminate surgical equipment and medical devices in a single-step 10-minute pre-soak procedure.

Because of the current situation regarding the patent, Croud couldn‘t go into exact details of the technology but explained the basics of its proteolytic action.

He said: “We have developed a working combination of proteases (enzymes which break down protein), and managed to find a mixture in which the two don’t work at breaking each other down, as proteases typically do.

“The proteases will attack two separate points in the hard-wearing protein’s structure while a third component kills other bugs which might be lurking on the surfaces. The broad spectrum component kills a number of contaminants – such as viruses, bacteria, spores and funghi – but the prion inactivation is its main focus.”

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