Research Oscar: Cube Dx Wins Houska Prize 2023 for Life-Saving Sepsis Diagnostics

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Early detection and rapid identification of the pathogen are critical to initiating effective therapy. Conventional methods involve culturing microorganisms from the patient’s blood, a process that is time-consuming and can take days. Cube Dx has developed a "compact sequencing" method for rapid detection of sepsis pathogens. In April 2023, the company was awarded first place in the "Research & Development in SMEs" category of the Houska Prize by the B&C Private Foundation, receiving a prize of €150,000 for further research.

 

Bernhard Ronacher, molecular biologist and biochemist, as well as founder and CEO of Cube Dx, commented on the award: "We are thrilled to receive this award, which is a highlight in my almost twenty years of research and development. With compact sequencing, we can detect pathogens that cause blood poisoning within a few hours compared to traditional methods. This can save lives."

 

Houska Prize: Promoting Economic Development through Research in Austria

 

With a total endowment of €750,000, the Houska Prize is the largest private award for applied research in Austria. The B&C Private Foundation established the Houska Prize in 2005 with the aim of promoting economically relevant research and contributing to the strengthening of Austria's economic position. For more information visit www.houskapreis.at.

 

Idea Originated 15 Years Ago

 

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Mag. Ronacher had the idea to develop a method to identify sepsis pathogens in the shortest possible time. With perseverance, determination, and a vision, he developed the compact sequencing method at Cube Dx. This method enables the detection of pathogens within three hours. This highly sensitive method identifies the specific DNA of microorganisms in the blood. "About 100 different bacteria, fungi, and resistance genes from samples such as saliva or blood are measured simultaneously. This provides us with results that are fast, accurate, cost-effective and offer a unique coverage," explaines Dr. Mag. Ronacher. The early stages of sepsis significantly influence the severity and duration of the septic episode. Early, targeted antimicrobial therapy based on knowledge of the pathogen increases the chances of a milder and shorter course of the disease. The cost of intensive care, approximately €5,000 per day per patient, is a critical factor in potential cost savings.

 

Results in Three Hours

 

Current standard detection methods take a long time to provide test results because they rely on the growth of microorganisms in the patient sample. The median time for this process is approximately 48 hours, and for some microorganisms, it takes even longer. Cube Dx's pathogen identification directly detects the pathogen DNA directly from the patient sample (blood), eliminating the time-consuming cultivation process. This reduces the time to results to approximately three to four hours.

 

Rapid Diagnosis as a Decisive Factor

 

Early recognition of sepsis is critical because it is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis can escalate quickly and cause serious organ damage. Early diagnosis allows for prompt treatment, improves survival chances, and minimizes long-term health problems. Without prompt intervention, there is a higher risk of expensive, intensive medical care and a high mortality rate.

 

Close Collaboration with Research Partners

 

The Department of Biomedical Research at the University for Continuing Education Krems served as Cube Dx’s research partner in this project. Led by Prof. Dr. Viktoria Weber, the team investigated factors that may inhibit pathogen detection in the blood. The collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Research and Cube Dx stems from the CD Laboratory for Innovative Therapeutic Approaches in Sepsis, which operated at the University for Continuing Education Krems from 2013 to 2019 focused on the development of improved diagnostic methods for sepsis. As part of the university's COVID testing laboratory, "compact sequencing" was successfully used for variant screening in SARS-CoV-2-positive samples.

The Institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology at the Medical University of Innsbruck contributed extensive clinical expertise in the field of sepsis diagnostics and defined the requirements for the test. The first generation of the product was evaluated and documented in a performance assessment study conducted jointly with international partners. Led by Prof. Dr. Cornelia Lass-Flörl, the team fulfilled a key requirement for market approval of the test. The tests are now in routine clinical use.

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