The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.7 million cases of hospital acquired infections (HAI) – or nosocomial infections – result in roughly 100,000 deaths each year. Johns Hopkins patient safety expert, Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in the July 14, 2010, issue of the “Journal of the American Medical Association” that these infections wind up costing the American healthcare system between $30 and $40 billion annually.
CCL Biomedical, Inc., located in Havre de Grace, is developing and commercializing an antimicrobial technology to help combat this serious health issue and reduce the number of infections and deaths. “Bacteria are responsible for odor in clothing. They’re responsible for infections in the hospital. There are also global health and biological warfare issues that we’re dealing with these days, so this is a technology that could counter those real life problems and possible threats, and save lives,” says Nina Lamba, Ph.D., CEO and founder.
An infection introduced to an already weakened immune system like that of patients in hospitals can be extremely dangerous. It can exacerbate their current condition requiring extensive treatment, the introduction of more medication and a prolonged hospital stay. Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, hundreds of powerful antibiotics have been created to treat infections caused by bacteria. However, they were used carelessly and plentifully over the years. Doctors, pressured by their patients, prescribed them needlessly for certain bacterial infections and even for viral infections where they have no effect. Farmers started adding them to their animal feed to encourage disease-free livestock.
Since antibiotics act by attacking a single component of bacteria, overuse led to bacteria mutation to render them resistant. The mutation and resistance quickly traveled to other bacteria through propagation, ultimately making killers out of previously treatable bacterial infections like Staphylococcus aureus and enterococci. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can cause blood stream infections and pneumonia while vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) often leads to meningitis and endocarditis.
Depending on the strain, bacteria can last for days, weeks and even months on fabric surfaces like curtains, furniture, privacy drapes and clothing. When people come in contact with these items, they unwittingly pick up and deposit bacteria to another location simply by sitting on or touching a different surface or by human-to-human contact. Lamba describes the scenario when a visitor sits on a fabric-covered chair in a hospital waiting or patient room. Bacteria can be transferred to their clothing then transferred to their loved one through a hug, helpful gesture or touching another patient surface. “It’s easy to remember to wash your hands after using a restroom, but you don’t think about other areas where you’ve been exposed,” says Lamba.
And don’t look to pharmaceutical companies to pioneer new antibiotics – it’s not worth their time or money. “Drug makers know that because bacteria mutate to resist so quickly, any new antibiotic will likely only be effective for three to five years,” Lamba explains.
In an interview with ABC News, William Schaffner, M.D., chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said, “It’s simply not profitable for them. If you create a new drug to reduce cholesterol, people will be taking that drug every day for the rest of their lives. But you only take antibiotics for a week or maybe 10 days.”
The antimicrobial technology in development at CCL Biomedical was discovered at the University of Delaware where Lamba was completing her post-doctoral fellowship in biomedical engineering. Although her parents are both from India, Lamba is a native of the United Kingdom. “My parents are both medical doctors and were working in England when was I born.” Lamba says she knew early on that medicine wasn’t her calling, but she enjoyed the sciences and chose chemistry as her undergraduate major to see where it led her. She admits to stumbling onto the field of bio-materials that combines chemistry and material science with medical science, exposing her to projects like finding new polymers for contact lenses or discovering how blood responds to plastic membranes and tubing to help predict clinical results. After finishing her Ph.D., Lamba applied to programs all over the world, choosing the University of Delaware and eventually settling in Havre de Grace. “With a Ph.D. in your hand, the world is your oyster. I was young, free, single and ready to discover life in a different country while pursuing a fellowship. The group working on the antimicrobial technology was nearing the end of the project and relocating or graduating. It was either spin out the technology into a company and pursue it in that direction or it would probably die because there was no funding. I was asked to write some grants to try and continue the research and ended up running a company.”
The University of Delaware holds the original patents related to the family of antimicrobial compounds used in the
process, but CCL Biomedical applied for its own as well. “We created the bonding applications so that the antimicrobial will bond to things in a water based solution.”
There are other antimicrobials on the market but CCL Biomedical assures that their product is better. “We have superior technology,” says Lamba. “Our compound is very potent, very powerful. It kills a lot more bacteria than the current systems out there. It also kills them more quickly, which is key. Non-uniform application on fabrics also compromises the effectiveness of others. We do it better partly by design in the family of compounds we use and partly because of processing manufacturing techniques. We are addressing everything from the synthesis end to the manufacturing and laundering to make sure that it performs. It’s durable and customizable.”
Lamba explains that CCL Biomedical is developing manufacturing options for its application. In the lab, they are showing that the technology can survive multiple washings in laundry, but they are looking deeper than that. “We’re targeting a fabric finish that can be easily integrated into the manufacturing process. If it’s done at the mill level, it wouldn’t need to be reapplied.”
In an era of antibiotic resistance and reluctance on the part of drug manufactures, prevention of infection by reducing transmission rates is critical. “In addition to use in hospitals, we would like to work with textile and apparel companies and also see application in field medical shelters for rescue workers or military personnel. If you’re treating bacterial infections around the world, you’re probably bringing potentially pathogenic bacteria back with you, too, on tents, drapes and uniforms. There is no limitation for application.”
While most of their work to date has been research and development with universities and industry experts, Lamba’s goal is to bring the technology to market. “We’re ready. We just need the right partners to make it happen.” I95