NEW YORK – OpGen subsidiary Ares Genetics and Sandoz, a division of Novartis, have extended a master services agreement initiated in 2019 to develop diagnostic tools aimed at better surveilling the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and providing more targeted diagnostic services and treatments.
In this next phase, the two companies plan to develop and deploy tools that advance antimicrobial stewardship, or efforts to circumvent antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by improving how clinicians prevent and control outbreaks of AMR pathogens. While the development of new antibiotics remains a critical need in the global effort to stem AMR, Ares and Sandoz see an opportunity in identifying the right patients for whom combinations of existing antibiotics can do the trick.
The collaboration's initial phase enabled Ares to develop an artificial intelligence (AI)-based digital anti-infective platform, which it has used to further develop several of the company's genomic surveillance assays, such as ARESiss, a whole-genome isolate sequencing workflow that Ares offers as a service.
"The next phase of this collaboration really aims at deploying these technologies together with Sandoz in collaboration with multinational AMR surveillance projects to enable antibiotic stewardship locally and to inform public health globally at faster speed and reduced costs," said Ares CEO Arne Materna.
More personalized patient testing and surveillance, the companies believe, can help guide the selection of effective antibiotics and avoid the use or overuse of ineffective ones.
"As much as we will rely on new antibiotics to treat emerging resistant infections, there is still value in old antibiotics," said Nick Adomakoh, the global medical affairs lead for anti-infectives at Sandoz. "Some of them can still retain activity against specific mechanisms that resistant organisms use."
Ares' platform, which is used internally and has no official name, identifies both known and novel antibiotic resistance markers and is used to predict how organisms bearing these markers may actually respond to being exposed to antimicrobial therapy.
"These two things do not always necessarily correlate," Materna said.
Sandoz hopes that this platform will identify organisms susceptible to antibiotics within the company's portfolio, enabling the collaborators to systematically screen Sandoz's portfolio against an array of resistant organisms.
"Ares' platform really supports rapid bioanalytics and providing genetic information to non-experts," Adomakoh said. "Essentially, translating a genome into a phenotypic susceptibility result that is then actionable by a clinician who probably doesn't know what all is going on under the hood of this whole technology."
The platform, the collaborators hope, will eventually enable them to offer physicians the diagnostic capabilities to more quickly identify the appropriate antibiotics for patients and to adjust therapy regimens as needed.
It may also lead to advances in AMR surveillance in regions with less access to therapeutics and high AMR burdens.
To this end, said Materna, "We shifted our R&D focus on assays that we could develop on a new generation of sequencing platforms, which are coming at a lower cost, are portable and deployable in local health care centers, and which support lower complexity workflows."
Ares' assays currently run on both Illumina and Oxford NanoPore platforms.
In support of that overall effort, Ares recently launched ARESid, a culture-free sequencing and analysis service for the detection and surveillance of bacterial and fungal microbes, along with ARESiss Express, an expedited ARESiss service that reduces sequencing and analysis times to five days.
ARESiss, ARESid, and ARESupa service offerings are scheduled to be released to the US market around the third quarter of this year. ARESupa is a universal pathogenome assay for clinical specimens, covering over 8,000 genetic AMR markers.
All of Ares' services are currently offered out of the company's associated NGS service laboratory in Vienna, Austria. Upon introduction to the US market, they will be offered out of OpGen's lab in Rockville, Maryland.
Although Sandoz eventually intends to conduct clinical studies on antibiotic combinations that can counter AMR, it remains too early to say when these might occur. The next step in that direction, Adomakoh said, is to outline how best to screen the compounds within Sandoz's portfolio.
"We may well look at screening the entire portfolio first or doing a priority selection based on need at the time and then potentially get some research going that can validate in a clinical setting what we're seeing from the in vitro, in silico setting," he said.
The current master services agreement runs through January 31, 2025, with the option to extend further.