LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A company that has spent the past eight years developing a disposable diagnostic test for pink eye and other inflammatory diseases is now commercializing the product.
Rapid Pathogen Screening Inc. has signed a licensing agreement with a French development firm to market its patented test kits to optometrists, ophthalmologists and family physicians across the U.S. and in Europe.
The AdenoPlus kit allows clinicians to diagnose the highly contagious viral form of conjunctivitis, or pink-eye, within minutes during a medical office visit. Previously, health care technicians could only confirm pink eye with a culture swab or DNA test, expensive methods that took several hours or days.
The Lakewood Ranch firm also is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on refining the technology for use in helping rapidly diagnose large groups of people in the event of a biological attack.
As a result, RPS expects to add jobs and expand its facility.
"We're at the launching point, so to speak, of rapid growth and expansion of the company itself," said Dr. Robert Sambursky, RPS president, chairman and CEO. "Over the years, we foresee a significant amount of new hiring and expansions at our
facility. I don't know exact numbers because it changes day to day."
Founded in 2004, RPS moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota County in 2005. The firm now employs about 25 workers from its headquarters and science lab in Lakewood Ranch.
The company develops point-of-care diagnostic tests that can be used to spot just about any virus or bacterial infection within minutes.
The technology also can be implemented through various platforms with tests for urine, blood or any other bodily liquid.
The initial RPS product was designed as a faster alternative to lab testing for pink eye, a highly contagious disease that results in some chronic damage for 30 percent of patients, Sambursky said.
A second version of the product -- AdenoPlus -- was released last year, making the test faster and easier to use.
Sambursky believes the technology will become a staple in health care, ensuring clinicians prescribe the correct medications and keeping patients from classrooms and office buildings where the virus can quickly spread.
Because pink eye has a vast overlap in signs and symptoms, it's historically difficult to catch early, Sambursky said.
RPS plans to mold the platform to fit other sectors that are under-served, or where on-spot viral testing is lax.
"This technology will improve medical care and bring costs down," Sambursky said. "We're not limited to what we can test for."
The company has also signed a contract with the Department of Homeland Security's Chemical and Biological Defense Division to develop a rapid test for emergency pandemic situations.
The test will use a finger stick of blood to quickly identify whether a person has a viral or bacterial infection, helping the government better respond with the appropriate treatment.
That product is still in the development stages, and company officials wouldn't elaborate much on the details of the contract or give a timetable for its roll out.
"It's basically intended to provide diagnoses in situations where we're trying to differentiate a viral infection from a bacteria infection with a finger stick of blood," said Marketing Manager Laura Lovejoy. "It can provide diagnoses should a biological attack occur."
Area officials say Southwest Florida is poised for future growth in the life sciences field, with facilities like the LECOM medical schools to the biotech program at State College of Florida and Roskamp Institute.
Other medical device manufacturers can help make the area's labor force more desirable to like companies, said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corp.
"We would like to have more companies like that here," she said. "It's great to have a critical mass of any particular segment you're trying to cultivate in a community, particularly life sciences, because they're high-skill, high-paying jobs."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.