Reporter with Silicon Hills News

From left to right: Rick Hawkins, Dr. Subinoy Das, Joseph Skraba, photo by Leslie Anne Jones

From left to right: Rick Hawkins, Dr. Subinoy Das, Joseph Skraba, photo by Leslie Anne Jones

Most sinus infections are viral and don’t require antibiotics. But how can a patient and doctor be sure? Presently, a family doctor can’t quickly diagnose his patient’s sinus infection as viral or bacterial. ENTvantage Diagnostics aims to change that with an in-office nose swab that will give results to physicians and patients within 15 minutes.

Too often unnecessary drugs are prescribed to put the patient’s mind at rest, and to cover the doctor from liability on the small chance the infection is in fact bacterial. However, mistreatment can cause chronic sinus problems for patients, and antibiotic over prescription contributes to the growing threat of drug-resistant bacteria worldwide. In April, the World Health Organization released a report on antibiotic resistance. The survey found that treatment resistance for common infections was increasingly common in many regions, resulting in people remaining sick longer, with an increased likelihood of death.

ENTvantage wants to secure $1 million in funding. Once received, chief medical officer Dr. Subinoy Das estimates the venture will be able to finish engineering the diagnostic swab and be ready for clinical trials in 18-24 months.

Das, an Ohio-based researcher and one of the nation’s top sinus surgeons, has been working toward a diagnostic solution for about five years.

In some ways his scientific quest is personal: Das used to play baseball and was hit in the face with a line drive that gave him sinus problems. As a teen, he attended prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which allowed him to intern with the Department of Defense at a laboratory developing battlefield diagnostics. This gave him experience translating existing scientific knowledge to practical use.

In his undergrad, Das was exposed to pure scientific research, after which he went on to attend medical school. “I joined a relatively unique career-path of people known as clinician-scientists,” Das said, explaining that the medical field typically produces researchers who lack clinical experience and doctors with little research background. Because of his combined education, when Das began his career as a rhinologist, he made it his goal to find a practical solution for the most pressing problem in the field, which he believed to be that doctors don’t know if their patients have bacterial or viral sinus infections.

It’s not just the systemic problem of antibiotic over-prescription that makes this a pressing issue. Improper treatment of sinus infections can lead to chronic problems that might one day require surgery. Sinus surgery is highly invasive, it involves peeling the face down and cracking open the skull, and since the sinuses are so close to the eyes and brain, there is risk of injury.

“Our diagnostics will give patients and doctors more confidence to withhold antibiotics when they aren’t needed,” Das said.

The diagnostic kit Das has been developing works by identifying bacterial proteins present in the nose that indicate the cause of infection. In the lab at Ohio State University, the test proved highly effective on chinchillas, which have immune systems similar to humans because they hail from the Andes Mountains where there’s little exposure to bacteria.

Austin-based serial entrepreneur and CEO of Lumos Pharma Rick Hawkins attended a presentation by Das at the university and was impressed. “The technology solves a really critical problem,” he said. Hawkins is part of ENTvantage’s board of directors. The venture’s president is Joseph Skraba, who has been bringing medical devices to market for 30 years. Presently, the company is finalizing a licensing deal with Ohio State University.

The company will be based in Austin, where both Hawkins and Skraba are located. Once funding is secured, ENTvantage will hire employees and also engage development partners. The company already has a prototype with some basic engineering, but it needs to be refined.

If the product makes it to market, Skraba for one is optimistic about adoption. He cited strep throat as a relevant example: Before rapid strep tests were available, antibiotics for strep throat were prescribed with much greater frequency, though only about 30 percent of people who visit doctors with sore throats have the infection.

With sinusitis, it’s only about 10 percent of cases that have a true bacterial infection. Each year, about 30 million people in the United States are diagnosed with sinusitis, so the potential for ENTvantage to cut down on the superfluous use of antibiotics is huge.