Memed seeks partners for bacterial vs viral testing and more
The group’s ambitions are startling, but it will need cash and collaborators to realise them.
That a blood test capable of swiftly telling whether a patient has a bacterial or viral infection has passed regulatory muster in the US is an exciting advance. Even more unexpected is that it was developed not by one of the blue-chip diagnostics giants but by a small Israeli start-up.
The MeMed BV test could answer a question that is, worldwide, asked around 500 million times annually, Memed’s co-founder and chairman, Kfir Oved, tells Evaluate Vantage. “The available markets are tremendously high, far bigger than what a company like Memed alone can grasp,” he says. And that means partnerships.
Memed’s assay examines not the pathogen but the patient’s immune response, detecting the virus-induced biomarkers TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand, interferon gamma-inducible protein-10 and C-reactive protein. These molecules are present in lower levels, Memed says, if a bacterium rather then a virus is present.
The test could help cut the overuse of antibiotics, a problem for which solutions have been sought for decades. Conversely, it could also aid the 20% or so of patients with a bacterial infection who do not receive antibiotics on time or at all.
The group has just signed a licencing deal with Diasorin under which the Italian company will sell MeMed BV by offering it on its Liaison diagnostic instruments.
“We definitely believe that partnering is the right way to proceed,” Mr Oved says. But this is the group’s strategy only for its assays.
It also sells a small device on which the tests can be run at the point of care, such as in a hospital ward. The MeMed Key processes one test at a time, yielding a result in 15 minutes. It is as accurate as larger machines, Mr Oved says, “with the exact same chemistry as the half-a-million dollars, half-a-room type of machines you see in the central lab in the hospital, just in a miniaturised manner”.
The company offers this device itself using a razor-razorblade model. Memed Key is given to customers free of charge or with a low service fee, and the customer is obliged to purchase a certain number of tests. These cost less than $100 apiece, Mr Oved says, though the price varies in different territories and different settings – hospital versus outpatient, for instance.
The same model will apply for Memed’s other marketed test, designed to foresee the course of Covid-19 infections. The Covid-19 Severity assay, approved in Europe in the summer, assigns a score to patients as they are admitted to hospital, and this has been shown to correlate with the likelihood of ICU admission, non-invasive or invasive ventilation, or death (Europe approves a Covid-19 crystal ball, July 27, 2021).
MeMed Covid-19 Severity detects the same serum biomarkers as MeMed BV, since these fluctuate with the severity of a viral infection, the company says, not just its presence.
US approval of the Covid-19 prognostic is in the works, Mr Oved says. But the group has vaster ambitions, intending to combine its two technologies to develop a test that can predict the course of almost any infection.
“We believe eventually that Memed is going to develop a general severity product that will be valued for Covid, but will be valued for potentially every other acute infectious disease, and maybe even other scenarios,” says Mr Oved.
This would be ambitious for an established diagnostics multinational; for a 100-person-strong group barely a decade old it almost borders on grandiose. Still, Memed’s achievements so far might also have seemed implausible not too long ago.
If Memed is going to develop an all-purpose severity assay, though, it is going to need cash.
So far the company has raised over $100m in venture financing, and on top of that received $40m in grant funding from the US Department of Defense and the European Commission, specifically to develop the bacterial versus viral technology and the Memed Key device.
Memed has had interest from investors after FDA clearance of MeMed BV, but Mr Oved declines to elaborate on any concrete financing plans.
Longer term, the company says it wants to remain independent, intending to become a leader in host-response testing. It is possible that an acquirer will swoop with an offer too good to refuse – indeed this would be almost inevitable if Memed manages to make its universal severity test a reality. Until then, interested parties might prefer to test the waters with partnering agreements.