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New protection against resistant bacteria

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Pharmaceuticals

A new material that prevents infections in wounds has been developed by Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden –  a specially designed hydrogel, that works against all types of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant ones. The new material offers great hope for combating a growing global problem.

The World Health Organization describes antibiotic-resistant bacteria as one of the greatest threats to global health. To deal with the problem, there needs to be a shift in the way we use antibiotics, and new, sustainable medical technologies must be developed.

“After testing our new hydrogel on different types of bacteria, we observed a high level of effectiveness, including against those which have become resistant to antibiotics,” says Martin Andersson, research leader for the study and Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.

Research and development of the material has been ongoing for many years at Martin Andersson’s group at Chalmers, growing in scope along the way, with a particular focus on the possibilities for wound care. Now, the important results are published as a scientific article in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

The main purpose of the studies so far has been to explore new medical technology solutions to help reduce the use of systemic antibiotics. Resistant bacteria cause what is referred to as hospital-acquired infection – a life-threatening condition that is increasing in incidence worldwide.

 

Mimicking the natural immune system

The active substance in the new bactericidal material consists of antimicrobial peptides, small proteins which are found naturally in our immune system.

 

“With these types of peptides, there is a very low risk for bacteria to develop resistance against them, since they only affect the outermost membrane of the bacteria. That is perhaps the foremost reason why they are so interesting to work with.”

  – Martin Andersson

 

Researchers have long tried to find ways to use these peptides in medical applications, but so far without much success. The problem is that they break down quickly when they come into contact with bodily fluids such as blood. The current study describes how the researchers managed to overcome the problem through the development of a nanostructured hydrogel, into which the peptides are permanently bound, creating a protective environment.

“The material is very promising. It is harmless to the body’s own cells and gentle on the skin. In our measurements, the protective effect of the hydrogel on the antimicrobial peptides is clear– the peptides degrade much slower when they are bound to it,” says Edvin Blomstrand, Doctoral Student at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, and one of the main authors of the article.

“We expected good results, but we were really positively surprised at quite how effective the material has proven,” adds Martin Andersson.

According to the researchers, this new material is the first medical device to make successful use of antimicrobial peptides in a clinically and commercially viable manner. There are many varied and promising opportunities for clinical application. 


Startup company Amferia takes the research from lab to market

In recent years, foundational research into the antimicrobial peptide hydrogel has run in parallel with commercial development of the innovation through the spin-off company Amferia AB. The company was founded in 2018 by Martin Andersson together with Saba Atefyekta and Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, who both defended their dissertations at Chalmers’ Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The material and the idea, which is currently developed as an antibacterial wound patch, has generated interest around the world, attracting significant investment and receiving several awards. The company is working intensively to get the material to market so that it can benefit wider society.

Before the new material can benefit hospitals and patients, clinical studies are needed, which are ongoing. A CE marking of the material is expected to be completed in 2022. Furthermore, the wound patch version of the new material is undergoing trials in veterinary care, for treating pets. The company Amferia AB is already collaborating with a number of veterinary clinics around Europe where the hydrogel is now being tested.

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Digitalization: Transformation in the process industry

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Siemens will be demonstrating how the combination of the real and the digital worlds empowers industrial companies to act in a versatile and sustainable manner at the “Achema Pulse” live digital event. Companies in the process industry are facing urgent and rapidly changing challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic in particular has transformed demand patterns and global supply chains virtually overnight. At the same time, industry-specific regulations and standards are creating new framework conditions for production. Digitalization and automation are the levers for mastering these changes. Industrial IoT solutions can exploit the resulting data to secure a competitive advantage since the intelligent analysis, understanding and utilization of the data allows companies to adapt their processes faster to changing requirements. The Digital Enterprise portfolio makes this possible by combining the real world with the digital world, thus enabling solutions for simulation, virtual processes, remote access and connectivity as well as presenting service offerings for digital transformation. Thanks to the corresponding industry-specific know-how, individual sector requirements can be taken into account.

Focus on industry-specific solutions

“Achema Pulse is a great opportunity to providing impulses to our custumers and gaining insights on how we can implement the digital transformation together. There will be a special emphasis on the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, and we look forward to sharing our expertise in these areas.”

– Eckard Eberle, CEO of Siemens Process Automation


For companies in the pharmaceutical industry, winning the race against time is now more important than ever. The company is helping pharmaceutical companies accelerate their production setups with the help of digitalization and automation. One example is the Mainz-based biotechnology company BioNTech SE which has converted an existing facility in Marburg for the production of the Covid-19 vaccine in record time with assistance from the concern. Through collaboration and the team of experts on site in Marburg, the project timeline for converting the existing facility for the production of mRNA-vaccine was cut from around one year down to five months, whereby the implementation of key parts of the new Manufacturing Execution System (MES) was reduced to two and half months.

In the future, the digital twin can be increasingly used in vaccine development. Global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is collaborating with digitalization expert and digital transformation leader Atos to digitalize its vaccine development and production process using the digital twin. As the first application for testing, GSK, Siemens and Atos have developed a proof-of-concept digital twin specifically for the development and manufacturing of adjuvant technologies. Using mechanical models and artificial intelligence (AI), the partners developed a hybrid model to simulate and monitor the process. As such, the digital twin links the process parameters to the quality of the adjuvant, with the sensors and process analytical technology (PAT) feeding the twin with the information needed to predict the quality of the product. Any deviation from the optimal quality is anticipated and causes the twin to act on the process parameters and rectify them to satisfy the target specifications. In the next step, GSK wants to work with the company to support its vision to establish and introduce new digital twins for the entire vaccine development process for new vaccines. Thus, the digital twins of product, production and performance will be linked together.

In the chemical industry, the biggest challenges lie in the fact that plants must run reliably and safely. The “Digital Worker” is a concept that allows operating personnel to digitize and automate work in the field using state-of-the-art technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This approach supports the user in the digitization of workflows in process plants and in paperless processing, promoting remote access thanks to electronic documentation, access information and guidance by intelligent devices. Against this backdrop, specialty chemicals company Lanxess continues to drive forward digitalization in its production plants. Over the next three years, the specialty chemicals company will introduce mobile operations and maintenance. In a first step, around 400,000 paper-based operations and maintenance checklists used every year will be replaced by digital equivalents, then filled out on tablets. Lanxess is supported by Siemens to digitize its checklists. For this, the Moby.Check software will be used,  which runs on tablets and can be controlled using either the keyboard or voice commands. Moby.Check has a flexible operating concept allowing users to create production, servicing and maintenance checklists on their PC – without any programming work or training in advance. In addition to more efficient processing, the error rate of manual transmission can be reduced, and documentation simplified. The Digital Worker supports the transformation from analog to digital workflows and can also exploit the potential of the digital twin in the field. Applications based on AI contribute to higher plant availability through the early detection of anomalies. And predictive maintenance planning means that outages and routine maintenance work are avoided.

As a specific offering for the chemical and oil & gas industries, Siemens offers not only the explosion-proof motors of the Simotics XP series, but also motors of the Simotics SD series for environments without explosion hazard in the Chemstar version. They are equipped with pre-configured chemical-specific options. Both motor series, available with options, operate reliably and energy-efficiently even under extreme conditions and offer all relevant certificates.

Modularization as the key to meeting new requirements with ease

To meet the demands of short innovation cycles and adaptations to new product portfolios, systems must be quick and easy to expand. The prerequisite for this are standardized, cross-vendor interfaces for the efficient configuration, communication and integration of modular plants. An interface of this type is defined in the MTP (Module Type Package). This protocol defines the information technology aspect of process models or plant sections in such a way that they can easily be integrated into a comprehensive automation solution, for example the Simatic PCS neo web-based process control system. The modules are assembled to form an overall process, facilitating their monitoring and control. At Achema Pulse, the example of the cooperation between Siemens and Merck will demonstrate how a modular production plant based on MTP minimizes engineering effort and permits fast and versatile process adaptations.

New IIoT solutions for faster data transmission and reliable data acquisition

“As part of the digital transformation, new trends are emerging in the process industry, which we are driving with our solutions and innovations,” explains Eberle. “We regard 5G as one of the most important technologies in the industrial IoT context. It means we can transfer data quickly and reliably over powerful communication networks to exactly where it is needed. This makes production plants more flexible, autonomous and efficient.” Scalance MUM856-1 is the first industrial 5G router from Siemens.

With its wireless connectivity, the robust Sitrans MS200 Multisensor forms the hardware basis for the collection of vibration and temperature data in mechanical system components. Via a Bluetooth connection, the data is sent to the Sitrans CC220 industrial gateway where it is encrypted before being transmitted from there to the cloud. Sitrans SCM IQ has an anomaly detection feature which is based on machine learning. It constantly monitors and analyzes all sensor values and swiftly detects any deviations from the intended operating state. Via the app, anomalies in plant behavior can be documented for immediate distribution to alert a predefined group of users. The Sitrans SCM IQ system comprises multisensors, gateway and app, and can be used in all industrial plants with mechanical or rotating system components. Scheduled to be available from summer 2021, it allows previously unused data from field devices to be used for the preemptive identification and prevention of imminent device failures in advance, thus reducing maintenance costs and avoiding unplanned downtimes.

Sustainability as a guiding principle

As Eberle emphasizes: “Our offer not only meets the requirements of our customers, it also constitutes a contribution to sustainability.” Accordingly, Achema Pulse will also be offering sessions on the topics of chemical recycling and sustainability.

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New research collaboration using mRNA therapeutics

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This month, researchers and developers from Evonik are starting a three-year collaboration with scientists from the renowned Stanford University in California. Together, they want to expand the possible applications of mRNA therapeutics so that they can better combat diseases such as cancer and AIDS in the future. The goal is to develop a technology for delivering mRNA to tissues and organs that goes beyond the current possibilities of lipid nanoparticles (LNP). To this end, the experts are developing a polymer-based system that Evonik will license and market.

This polymer-based platform complements the existing portfolio of lipid-based drug delivery technologies, including LNP. So-called drug delivery technologies are imperative for mRNA therapies to target and safely deliver active ingredients to their site of action in the body. With this new technology, the company is accelerating the portfolio shift of the Nutrition & Care life science division towards system solutions. The division aims to increase the share of such system solutions from 20 percent today to more than 50 percent by 2030.

 

“We are proud to partner with Stanford and combine our innovation in advanced drug delivery technology. With this project, we are developing the next generation of mRNA-based medicine.”

– Dr. Thomas Riermeier, Head of the Health Care Business Unit

 

Effective and safe delivery of mRNA in the cell is one of the major challenges for expanding the use of corresponding therapeutics to promising areas such as cancer immunotherapy, protein replacement and gene editing. The company sees itself here as a leading integrated development and manufacturing partner for drug delivery systems for the pharmaceutical industry. Currently, the accessible market potential for LNP-based delivery systems is estimated to exceed $5 billion by 2026.

“If we are to realize the full potential of mRNA therapeutics, we need a range of technologies that target an expanded range of tissues and organs,” said Dr. Stefan Randl, head of research, development and innovation at Evonik Health Care. “We look forward to commercializing the new platform in collaboration with Stanford University.”

The group will work with scientists at the university to scale up the synthesis and formulation and further develop the innovative organ-selective delivery technology based on a non-animal, synthetic polymer that is degradable in the body. As an integrated development and manufacturing partner for gene therapies, the Group aims to make this technology available in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) quality for use in clinical development stages and ultimately at commercial scale.

The new polymer-based delivery platform CART (Charge Altering Releasable Transporters) was developed by Professor Robert Waymouth, Professor Paul Wender and Professor Ronald Levy of Stanford University.

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In search of coronaviruses in wastewater

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Now the demand for wastewater testing for coronaviruses is also growing by leaps and bounds in Germany. On March 17, 2021, the European Commission called on EU member states to regularly test wastewater for coronaviruses.

Initial pilot projects in Germany and numerous studies show that an incipient infection can be detected about a week in advance. This provides municipalities with an early warning system to initiate appropriate measures in good time. “Monitoring wastewater provides extensive data quickly and cost-effectively to reliably analyze the spread of the virus in the population and to detect changes in the incidence of infection at an early stage,” explains Dr. Lisa Strauch, microbiology workgroup leader and laboratory expert for wastewater testing at SGS Analytics in Fellbach.

 

“We recommend that municipalities collect initial data now to be able to react more quickly to the infection events next fall.”

– Dr. Strauch

 

The company is a member of the “CoroMoni” network initiated by the DWA (German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste). This communication platform bundles know-how and the rapid exchange of experience between scientists from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, representatives of the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Environment Agency, the European Commission, and institutes and laboratories. Through this exchange with active research institutions, the laboratory experts ensure that the testing of wastewater for coronaviruses is always carried out in accordance with the latest scientific findings.

The Group offers communities an all-round service for this purpose. Interested parties can obtain advice from the laboratory on details of the sampling itself, as well as on the frequency and suitable sampling points. In addition, wastewater treatment plants are provided with special sampling kits that enable the samples to be sent back to the laboratory quickly and under refrigeration. After all, it is crucial for the success of wastewater testing that the results are available quickly.

Numerous studies confirm what was already apparent at the beginning of the pandemic: Components of the COVID-19 virus can be detected in wastewater, and the amount of virus components found correlates with the number of infected people in the catchment area of the wastewater treatment plant. In the Netherlands, current figures on virus particles found in wastewater are already published on a dedicated website.

In Sweden, SGS Analytics has been commissioned to develop a comparable online monitoring system. The examination of a 24-hour sample from the influent of a wastewater treatment plant is comparable to an anonymized mass test of the population. Only significantly cheaper and faster. Wastewater testing provides a sensitive signal of whether SARS-CoV-2 infections are present in the population and whether the number of infected individuals is increasing or decreasing.

 

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