« We are poised to revolutionize antibiotic prescription »

Danuta Cichocka is CEO and co-founder of EPFL spin-off Resistell. © 2024 Resistell

Danuta Cichocka is CEO and co-founder of EPFL spin-off Resistell. © 2024 Resistell

Danuta Cichocka’s fight against superbugs is personal, and she’s doing it with her start-up Resistell that promises to be the fastest at profiling antibiotic susceptibility of bacteria in the blood. 

Danuta Cichocka is on a mission to fight antibiotic resistance. Trained as a microbiologist, armed with an EPFL patent that helps characterize how bacteria react to antibiotics, plus the drive to help people and improve medical practices, Cichocka wants to ensure that patients are given the right antibiotic as fast as possible with her start-up, EPFL spin-off Resistell, where she is CEO and co-founder.

“Antibiotic resistance is on the rise because of misuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics. In extreme illnesses like sepsis that can lead to life threatening septic shock, we simply cannot waste any time and administer ineffective antibiotics for a resistant strain of bacteria,” says Cichocka. “Resistell’s next generation machines will be the fastest at profiling antibiotic susceptibility of bacteria in the blood, finding the right antibiotic in just two hours. In comparison, the current gold standard takes 24-48 hours and relies on old technology developed almost 100 years ago.”

Cichocka knows antibiotic resistance firsthand. As a child, she underwent a minor laryngological surgery and contracted two bacterial strains, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus, during her hospitalization. Her antibiotic therapy lasted over two years.

"That period of my life had a profound impact on me," says Cichocka. "It sparked my interest in microbiology and medicine, and I even considered becoming a physician. However, my parents were concerned about my health and the risk of exposure to other hospital-acquired illnesses on the job."

Driven by her passion for the life sciences, Cichocka earned a PhD in microbiology at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), followed by an Executive MBA in Management of Technology at EPFL. “I came across this incredible nanomotion technology during my MBA at EPFL,” Cichocka says.

Developed at EPFL’s former Laboratory of Physics of Living Matter by Professor Emeritus Giovanni Dietler and Dr. Sandor Kasas, the technology uses micromechanical sensors resembling springboards to measure the nanoscale vibrations of living cells. These tiny silicon sensors can indicate the physiological state of cells, suggesting broad applications in life sciences and medical diagnostics. One notable use is in rapid antibiotic susceptibility testing. "I was captivated by the elegance and simplicity of this solution, which is primarily based on fundamental laws of physics. I quickly fell in love with the nanomotion technology," says Cichocka, convinced of the tremendous potential of the EPFL invention.

Shortly after completing the EMBA, Cichocka embarked on her start-up adventure. Her business idea and first business plan won multiple start-up competitions, including VentureKick, MassChallenge and many others. In 2018 she incorporated Resistell and closed the seed financing round.

"At Resistell, we have redesigned the EPFL nanomotion device, generated vast amounts of nanomotion data, and developed classification algorithms using machine learning tools. Thanks to these advancements, we have achieved clinical accuracy, as demonstrated in two clinical studies. Recently, we have shortened the time of our test to 2-hours only and we are expanding the spectrum of antibiotics in Resistell’s panel. We are poised to revolutionize antibiotic prescription, shifting from empirical methods to diagnosis-based practices," adds Cichocka.

Cichocka is now raising her next financing round of 10-15 million CHF to fund Resistell’s activities, 25 employees and next generation device that will measure a panel of antibiotics within two hours only. “Our latest publication in Nature Communications shows that our technology is viable in the hospital setting, and now we’re working towards automating and shortening the entire diagnostic process for the patients at risk of sepsis.“

The entrepreneur’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs : “As per Ray Kroc, McDonald’s CEO who led the company to global expansion, ‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence’.”