July 2015 E-News Wrap-up from the Georgia Research Alliance

Emory team's finding sheds light on lupus

An Emory University research team led by GRA Eminent Scholar Iñaki Sanz has made what some experts are calling a “quantum advance” in understanding an important area of autoimmune diseases. The scientists’ work centered on lupus, a disease triggered when the immune system produces “troublemaking” antibodies that attack the body. Using new sequencing technology, they compared the rogue antibodies in patients with lupus to those in healthy people who had been recently vaccinated — and discovered profound differences in their makeup. The team's findings, published in Nature Immunology, moves science closer to learning what triggers lupus and why some people are susceptible to it. • More >

Clean Hands Safe Hands secures patents, investment

Many healthcare workers fail to wash or sanitize their hands while on the job, and that failure is the main reason hospital patients acquire 1 million infections each year.

But a technology developed by Clean Hands Safe Hands (CHSH) aims to reduce those infections by promoting hand hygiene in an entirely new way.

The technology – an affordable, wireless monitoring system connected to soap and sanitizer dispensers – has been developed in partnership with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Tech and Emory University. Headquartered at ATDC, the company got a big boost in July with the awarding of two patents and the approval of a key Phase III investment from GRA Ventures.

Through the CHSH platform, medical staff are alerted whenever they miss a hygiene opportunity at a soap or sanitizer dispenser. The notifications, however, are tailored to the precise rules, workflow and physical layout of the hospital.

That detailed customization capability is one of the patents awarded to CHSH this month. The other is a Natural Language Voice Reminder, which uses an unobtrusive audio recording of a person's voice to remind staff to perform hand hygiene if they forgot to do so. Because of the voice reminder, medical staff in clinical trials were four times more likely to practice good hand hygiene.

Such a level of adherence is crucial to patient health. The World Health Organization and the CDC report that hand hygiene is the most important factor in preventing the spread of infections throughout hospitals. About 1 in 25 admitted patients acquires an infection during a hospital stay.

The market potential of Clean Hands Safe Hands was a major factor in GRA Ventures electing to make a Phase III investment in the company. “The additional capital will help us increase our sales and product development,” says Chris Hermann, founder and CEO.

Eminent Scholar IDs new clues to Type 1 diabetes 

A GRA Eminent Scholar has discovered a previously unknown commonality among people suffering from Type 1 diabetes: a dearth of four proteins in the blood that help protect the body from an attack by its immune system. Jin-Xiong She of Georgia Regents University and his team analyzed the blood of people with and without Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. He found that a higher percentage of patients with the disease had significantly lower levels of the same four proteins • More on Dr. She's discovery >

Pharma startup secures capital, trial approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light this month to a landmark Phase 2 clinical trial for a drug developed by Celtaxsys to treat cystic fibrosis (CF). The trial will test how a daily dosage of acebilustat, the company's flagship drug candidate, preserves lung function in adults with CF. The news follows a $40 million Series D round of investment for Celtaxys in June by five investors, including the GRA Venture Fund, LLC. Proceeds from the Series D round will support completion of a separate Phase 2 trial for Celtaxsys to treat patients with moderately severe acne. A $5 million grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics will help fund the CF trial. • More about Celtaxsys >

Never vaccinate poultry again?
It could happen

University of Georgia scientists have developed a way to selectively stop the production of certain nucleic acids that cause disease in chickens. GRA Eminent Scholar Steve Stice and colleague Franklin West worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance a tooling process that enhances resistance to Newcastle virus and other diseases that devastate poultry flocks, especially in underdeveloped countries. Preventing the viruses from replicating in chickens would eliminate the need for some or all vaccines administered to the birds. • More on the study >
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