Staff Writer

HP Inc. is deploying its long-standing inkjet printer technology in a novel way to more easily and accurately dispense tiny amounts of drug candidates or treatments into patient samples for testing. It's currently working with a number of pharmaceutical companies, as well as academic and research labs, with this technology.

Its latest move is to partner with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to employ the inkjet printing technology to antibiotic resistance testing in four new labs. The pair aim to use the technology to better enable testing of patient samples for antibiotic resistance, particularly with the latest pipeline drug candidates in development, which often are available in minuscule amounts since they aren't widely manufactured yet. If successful, the partnership is slated to expand to more CDC labs around the country.

"This was a really amazing opportunity for us to support a dire need that they have," said Annette Friskopp, vice president and general manager of specialty printing systems at HP.

Friskopp first learned about the shortcomings of existing technology when she attended a CDC conference where Jean Patel, science team lead of the CDC's antibiotic resistance coordination and strategy unit, was presenting.

"I explained to [Dr. Patel] what our instrument does," Friskopp told BioWorld MedTech. "She said immediately that this was of interest to her, because she needed to be able to test new antibiotics on patient samples in case, God forbid, there was an epidemic."

Although, today, practitioners generally have new FDA-approved antibiotics available, following approval there's a two- to three-year lead time for those antibiotics to be incorporated into general testing mechanisms, instruments and methods to test patient samples in clinical labs, Friskopp explained.

The bioprinter technology works with micro quantities, from picoliters to microliters, of drug candidates with limited availability, both small molecules and biologics. It's also able to standardize a process that's sometimes managed via robotics but more often is done manually, making it error prone and requiring much larger quantities of the drug in testing.

"There's a gap; there are drugs in the pipeline right now that could be the drug of last resort to save an infected patient," Friskopp said. "Today, the CDC has methods, but they are quite onerous in workflow as well as in cost and [they require] large instruments to [perform] them." The D300 from HP enables CDC researchers the flexibility to use any quantity of a new antibiotic on a sample and obtain results rapidly, she explained. The CDC purchased the units from HP to deploy in four regional labs, where they'll be available to test patient samples submitted by hospitals and practitioners.

The four regional labs will be set up in New York, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin, starting during the first quarter of fiscal 2019. The top priority for these CDC labs will be the testing highly resistant bacterial infections, including those with pan-resistant strains.

Next steps

Another high-profile application is oncology, where the technology can be used to assess drugs, candidates and/or combinations of the two in patient samples more efficiently to improve personalized treatment regimens. Early HP customers Oregon Health Sciences University and the Children's Hospital of Zurich have published some research using this approach with the equipment.

Ultimately, HP sees the technology, which is available as its HP D300e Digital Dispenser Bioprinter, as an application that could prove useful in hospital labs for better patient diagnostics. The company also is working on a smaller, more inexpensive model that could prove attractive for lower-volume users.

HP is in talks with agencies in other countries that are comparable to the CDC to enable them to conduct the same sort of testing.

"Bacteria continuously develop new ways to resist antibiotics," Patel said. "Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges. In fact, resistance has even been detected before FDA approval.

"To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide," Patel added. "We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in health care providers' hands faster."

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