A world-leading Newcastle biotech firm has taken a major leap forward in its quest to revolutionise testing for contagious diseases after receiving support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
QuantuMDx, which is headquartered at the International Centre for Life, has been taken on as a strategic partner by FIND, which aims to provide innovative and affordable diagnostic products for healthcare systems in developing countries.
It is understood the body will providing substantial six-figure funding to the North East company, helping it develop its one-of-a-kind handheld laboratory, the Q-POC, for the purposes of swift diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis.
Sir John Burn, a professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University and QuantuMDx’s chairman, said: “We have always seen the developing world as our first port-of-call and clearly this is a very important step forward for us.
“Quite often you get bombarded with business cards and PowerPoint presentations telling you how you’re going to save the planet. But when an independent organisation of this stature comes along and says they’ve been looking around for the last five years and this is the technology they are backing, it’s a massive pat on the back.
“This is arguably the world’s most important independent body for assessing lower cost technologies for the developing world and the planet.”
Incorporated in 2008, QuantuMDx was born after inventor Jonathan O’Halloran committed to integrating technologies from a range of industries that combine speed, convenience and low cost with accuracy.
The Q-POC works through reading and sequencing DNA before converting it into binary code using a tiny computer chip. The same hand-held device can be used to diagnose a range of diseases through using different cartridges, and has applicability in other fields such as forensics.
The company has already attracted millions of pounds of investment as it initially focussed its efforts on tackling malaria.
FIND - which was established in 2003 and funded for five years by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, before attracting international support - will now help it develop its product so DNA can be extracted from sputum samples and analysed through ‘nanowire’ technology that uses a silicone thread to provide a clear test for TB within minutes.
Those using the device will also be able to determine whether the strain is drug-resistant.
Prof Burn added: “TB is a massive threat. In the latest statistics released a few months ago showed at least 9,000 cases diagnosed in Britain, which is only slightly fewer than in the whole of the US.
“It is everybody’s problem - someone could get on a plane and cough and a person 16 seats away could catch drug-resistant TB.”
He added that part of the reason antibiotics were becoming less effective was that people were receiving the wrong treatment - something Q-POC would have the ability to combat.
In the next few weeks, QuantuMDx will be running its first completely enclosed demonstrations and will be attending the world’s largest technology fair, Medica, in Dusseldorf, which attracts around 130,000 delegates.
Prof Burn added: “This is what people like to call disruptive technology. In diagnostic terms, it’s the equivalent to the mobile phone, compared to the house phone.”
FIND’s chief executive Catharina Boehme said: “After an extensive screening of different Point-of-Care platform solutions amenable to the decentralized testing for tuberculosis, we concluded that QuantuMDx’s POC systems provide a unique set of capabilities which allow for the seamless integration of future genetic discoveries and hence will assure a long-term sustainability of the molecular testing approach for tuberculosis.”