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A New Weapon against Prions

In the 1980s, the discovery that prions–the infectious agent that causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as well as human and animal spongiform encephalopathies–could be transmitted between humans came as a shock. This therefore raised the question of how to decontaminate medical equipment. Because of the prion's powerful physical and chemical resistance, no fully satisfactory solution had been found until now. A new product–the result of research carried out at the Institute of Human Genetics (IGH)1 in Montpellier–has just been marketed under the name Actanios Prion by the firm Anios.2 It is able to destroy prions without damaging fragile medical equipment like endoscopes.

new weapon

© S.Lehmann

Model of the three-dimensional structure of the disease-causing prion protein.

It was while studying the non-pathogenic form of prions3 that researchers at IGH observed that it could be destroyed by the combined action of copper and an oxidizing agent such as hydrogen peroxide. Until then, decontamination methods that worked against prions were either extremely aggressive (caustic soda, concentrated bleach, or autoclave), or not very effective (peracetic acid). “Of course, we immediately wondered whether this chemical cocktail would be efficient against pathogenic prions,” says Sylvain Lehmann, group leader at IGH and professor at the university and hospital of Montpellier. The answer wasn't long coming: The combination of copper and hydrogen peroxide was indeed able to destroy the abnormal protein and its infectious nature. “We knew very well the importance of this finding, so we registered a patent in 2004 and contacted the firm Anios, with the objective of developing a marketable decontamination product.”
A scientific collaboration with an exclusivity option on the patent began in 2005 between IGH and Anios, and given the importance of this new method, international patent coverage was also sought. This was followed by four years of work in order to adapt the formulation to hospital practice and to medical equipment, which requires specific cleaning precautions, and to validate the effectiveness of the solution against not only prions but also bacteria, viruses, and parasites. With this now out of the way, a license has finally been granted, and Actanios Prion is at last available on the market.

Caroline Dangléant

Notes :

1. Institut de Génétique Humaine (CNRS).
2. Anios is a subsidiary of Air Liquide, and is the market leader–both in France and the world–in the field of hospital decontamination.
3. The prion protein exists in two forms: a normal, non-pathogenic form, and an abnormal, pathogenic one.

Contacts :

Sylvain Lehmann
IGH, Montpellier.


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