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ID Genomics researcher Jamie Weaver in the company’s lab. (The Keller Group Photo)

Antibiotics are one of the most effective and useful medicines on the market today, but the more these treatments are used, the more bacteria can become resistant to them.

Antibiotic-resistant infections can be incredibly dangerous, and startup ID Genomics is aiming to take them on with its unique fingerprinting technology that lets it identify and track strains of bacteria.

Now the startup has helped launch a nonprofit initiative to further that work. ARMADA, or the Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring, Analysis and Diagnostics Alliance, will create a global database of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, drawing on data from hospitals and clinics across the world. ARMADA is a project of nonprofit organization Hopewell Fund and will contract with ID Genomics to leverage the company’s technology and expertise.

Microbiologist and ID Genomics Founder Evgeni Sokurenko, who is a member of ARMADA’s board of advisors, told GeekWire the initiative builds on a study of ID Genomics’ bacteria identification technology.

ID Genomics co-founder Evgeni Sokurenko. (University of Washington Photo)

The technology can quickly identify bacteria using its unique genetic fingerprint, then share information on the bacteria and what antibiotics work best against it with a doctor. The company identified 20,000 strains of bacteria from patients at hospitals in four cities as part of the study.

ID Genomics is focused on using that ID technology to help doctors prescribe the right antibiotics for each patient, but the data it gathers this way also paints a broader picture of the shadowy world of bacterial infections and how they spread.

Fighting different strains of bacteria is “like fighting a criminal world,” Sokurenko said. The strains move stealthily from patient to patient and country to country, and traditionally, they are hard to identify. ID Genomics’ technology can read the genetic barcode or fingerprint on each strain of bacteria and track the strains as they move and grow.

“We managed, actually, in the course of our study, to discover the very fast spread of a new pandemic superbug of e-coli,” Sokurenko said.

That discovery led him and others in the field to found ARMADA as a project dedicated to tracking and fighting these bugs as they spread throughout the globe. Sokurenko described ARMADA as an effort to “create a global crime database for the bugs.”

He added that he wanted the initiative to be run by a nonprofit so it can become a community resource, supported and used by anyone who could make a dent in the problem.

“Ultimately, it will be available to anyone who can use it for public good,” Sokurenko said.

ARMADA’s board of directors includes scientists and doctors from UW Medicine, Harborview Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente, alongside actor Bill Pullman, who is the project’s spokesperson.

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