With triple the number of sepsis cases in Australia, small cap biotech company Cynata Therapeutics (ASX:CYP) hopes to wage a new war on blood infections.

Last Friday the world learned blood infections were on the rise, with researchers showing in the international medical journal The Lancet that sepsis infections had increased 201 per cent Down Under.

Young children, the elderly, indigenous or those with compromised immune systems are at risk of sepsis.

Lancet’s Global Burden of Disease study of 195 countries and territories was based on records such as Australian death certificates, rather than just what medical professionals put on their paperwork, and showed a dramatic increase in cases from previous estimates.

The study showed that in 2017 there were about 55,000 cases of sepsis in Oz — more than three times the number of cases than the 18,000 incidences previously estimated.

The death count that year from the infection was 8,700 people in Australia. It was a dramatic 74 per cent increase on the 5,000-deaths estimated previously.

Some people experience multiple cases of sepsis in a year but mortality rates are still grim.

A 2016 study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute found that the mortality rate for sepsis was 20 to 30 per cent in Western nations.


A ‘chilling’ reality

Sepsis is a life-threatening blood infection that people can rapidly lose their lives to.

It’s a threat taken seriously in medical facilities across the globe, and a challenge Cynata hopes to address with stem cells to put people’s immune response in check.

Cynata researchers have shown its Cymerus mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can work well in battling blood infections in animals.

The company wants to expand its research to human studies, Cynata managing director and CEO Dr Ross Macdonald told Stockhead.

“The recent feature article in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet and the worldwide media attention it garnered outlines the chilling reality of just how devastating, prevalent and widespread sepsis is,” Dr Macdonald said.

“It is now acknowledged as one the most common and lethal conditions faced in medicine and which existing treatments are not capable of addressing.

“Cynata’s very promising findings in the recent pre-clinical study of its Cymerus mesenchymal stem cells provide a new potential treatment option for this exceedingly challenging problem.”

Cynata’s early-stage research out of Ireland effectively showed its stem cells “calm down” the animals’ immune system, Macdonald explained.

Known as the “silent killer”, sepsis is seen by some as an overreaction of the immune system to infection.


A ‘preventable condition’

The Lancet’s study found the number of cases of sepsis worldwide had doubled to 49 million a year.

Deaths from the condition stood at 11 million people, equating to one in five deaths globally.

Researchers called it the leading cause of death worldwide.

Australian Sepsis Network (ASN) founder Professor Simon Finfer from The George Institute for Global Health was one of The Lancet study’s authors and said it was concerning so many lives were lost to a largely preventable condition.

People need to act fast with sepsis, which can quickly damage a person’s tissues and organs and lead to shock, organ failure and death.

Australia has good systems in place to treat people early but more needs to be done, according to Professor Finfer.

“We urgently need a coordinated national approach that addresses pre-hospital and in-hospital recognition and treatment, to address the significant death and disability caused by sepsis in Australia,” he said.

ASN is housed at the George Institute and has $1.5m in federal government backing to develop treatment guidelines and run public awareness campaigns.

Current treatments can include antibiotics given within an hour of medics suspecting sepsis, intravenous fluid therapy, vasopressor drugs to support organ systems, mechanical ventilation and renal replacement therapy.

More females than males experienced sepsis, while 40 per cent of cases are in kids.

The most affected regions worldwide are sub-Saharan Africa, the South Pacific islands near Australia and South-East Asia.


Sepsis warriors

Cynata is not the only ASX-listed company looking at sepsis.

Recce Pharmaceuticals’ (ASX:RCE) has an antibiotic known as RECCE 327 that targets sepsis and blood infection.

The company raised about $7m last October to progress the drug through early stage clinical trials to test its safety and work out the right doses.

Medtech Uscom (ASX:UCM) is targeting the monitoring market with a non-invasive medical device to measure heart flow that can be used in sepsis patients.

Resources company Surefire Resources (ASX:SRN) had a sepsis program that it licensed from the University of Western Australia in the mid-naughties, when it was known as Genesis Biomedical (ASX:GBL).

Genesis opted to terminate the program in 2006 and become Black Ridge Mining (ASX:BRD) before rebranding to Surefire.