Cicada Innovations’ Australian ‘Nobel Gala’ spotlights SpeeDx war on superbugs


Article by Sarah-Jane Tasker. Originally posted in The Australian Business Review on 4 December 2017.

Australian innovator Alison Todd warns there is an imminent danger of “antibiotic apocalypse”, and her work in that field, to be recognised this week at a local version of the Swedish Nobel prize, is being used globally to address the crisis.

Dr Todd, chief scientific officer and co-founder of SpeeDx, said resistance to antibiotics was rising and multidrug-resistant super bugs were rapidly evolving.

Pictured: Dr. Alison Todd, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of SpeeDx

“The solution is to develop these tests that simultaneously detect the infectious bacteria but also determine antibiotic susceptibly so the clinician can guide therapy, give the patient the right drug and the patient is cured, and not spreading drug-resistant disease.”

SpeeDx has several technologies all focused on faster, simpler, cheaper ways of analysing the genetics of pathogens and human sequences. “Our area of speciality is around personalised medicine. That is when you analyse what is going on with the patient and that genetic information enables you to choose the drug that is best suited for that patient,” Dr Todd said.

SpeeDx sells tests globally for infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. The company is also leading the world in its field for sexually transmitted infections. It has developed the first commercial test that detects both the infectious pathogen and the resistance status in a single test.

The company, which was founded in 2009, started with a team of four at Cicada Innovations and will this week have its story highlighted at the Cicada Nobel Gala.

Pictured: Cicada Innovations’ 2016 Nobel Gala event

Cicada Innovations, a “super incubator”, created the event to celebrate Australia’s progress in science-based innovation and the Nobel committee in Sweden granted Cicada permission to use their name and recreate their prestigious event.

The event, to be held on Thursday, will be attended by more than 200 science, innovation heavyweights, including Australian Nobel Laureates, chairman of Innovation Australia Bill Ferris, federal and state ministers and Swedish embassy representatives.

Finalists include Livestock Labs, which is an implantable livestock welfare and management monitor that helps track the health of cows. That innovation could also eventually be used in humans.

Nano-X, another finalist, has developed a system that flips the radiotherapy on its head and could help to significantly reduce the cost of cancer treatments. The system rotates the person in the equipment, instead of rotating the equipment itself.

The Cicada Nobel Gala is scheduled to align closely with the Swedish event on December 10, with a live feed to Stockholm linking both events, and the Cicada atrium imitating the Stockholm Town Hall in terms of menu, music and performances.

Petra Andren, chief executive of Cicada Innovations, said just like Alfred Nobel’s original intention for the awards was to recognise those who serve humanity within their different industries, the Australian version would also be paying tribute to most impactful local innovations. She said the innovations recognised would be transformed into real-life applications with significant global impact.

“Cicada Innovations is home to 200-plus science and research heavyweights whose innovations, with zero exaggeration, have the potential to actually truly change the world,” she said.

Cicada’s Nobel awards will be given to the Australian creators of technologies recognised as having the potential to “serve humanity” and improve lives globally.

“I want the role models out there, I want people to know what is coming out of Australia,” Ms Andren said.

Mr Ferris said he believed the event would also become an important means to raise the profile of Australia in the global innovation and deep tech community.

“This will become one of the great calendar events in Australian innovation. Australia must be in the top 10 for innovation in the world by 2030, measured by any metric, and we need the noisy Cicada Innovations to make this happen,” he said.

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