An Israeli startup is taking aim at a mega global health crisis: overuse of antibiotic drugs.

Haifa-based MeMed, founded in 2009, has won tens of millions in investments and prizes to advance two initial products: ImmunoXpert, now used by hospitals in the EU, Switzerland and Israel to determine rapidly whether an infection is bacterial or viral; and ImmunoPoC, a point-of-care version not yet on the market.

Because they are usually unable to determine the cause of infection, many physicians prescribe antibiotics to be on the safe side. Experts believe that up to 50 percent of antibiotic drug regimens are unnecessary or inappropriate. And antibiotic overuse is a major trigger for drug-resistant strains estimated to kill approximately 50,000 people each year in Europe and the United States.

ImmunoXpert interprets chemical signals from the body’s own immune system to distinguish with over 90 percent accuracy between bacterial and viral infections, empowering physicians to make more informed decisions.

The Israeli assay has been validated in clinical studies involving thousands of patients worldwide. Further multi-center validation trials are ongoing.

Reading the immune system

MeMed CEO Eran Eden was a PhD student at the Weizmann Institute of Science when he started discussing the problem of antibiotic overuse with former classmate Kfir Oved, then a medical student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

They initially sat at Oved’s grandmother’s kitchen table in Ramat Gan to consider how to overcome the shortcomings of current diagnostic methods.

“There are cultures that require days, and there are rapid tests for infections such as strep throat that require access to the infection site. That’s not always possible, for example with respiratory-tract infections like pneumonia,” Eden tells ISRAEL21c. He notes that respiratory infections in children account for almost half of all doctor visits and hospitalizations.

Even when a microorganism can be identified, nobody knows if it really caused the infection or was simply part of the body’s natural flora.

“We realized that other players have been working on overcoming these challenges for many years, and we were just two guys in a kitchen,” says Eden. “We had to find an advantage; a different angle.”

MeMed’s ImmunoXpert kit. Photo: courtesy

MeMed’s ImmunoXpert kit. Photo: courtesy

Instead of trying to access and isolate the pathogen, ImmunoXpert’s sophisticated biosensors and algorithms decode the immune system’s distinct responses to bacterial and viral infections. The kit can also tell if the symptoms aren’t caused by an infection at all.

Results are ready within 99 minutes (the second-generation version will cut this amount to 15 minutes), even for inaccessible infections. The test isn’t confused by harmless bacteria that have not activated the immune system. And there’s no need to adjust the technology to new epidemics, as existing diagnostic methods must do, since the immune system does that naturally.