North East firm looking to develop tuberculosis diagnostic device aims to raise £1.6m

Sapient Sensors is hoping to bring its sim card-like field diagnostic tool to market, to prevent disease

Sapient Sensors Limited's field diagnostic equipment
Sapient Sensors Limited's field diagnostic equipment

A cutting edge medical technology firm is hoping to raise £1.6m to fund the progress of its field diagnostic equipment.

NETpark-based Sapient Sensors Limited, an early stage start-up which secured proof of concept funding from Northstar Ventures in 2011, is hoping to take its printed sensor technology to market.

Sapient’s technology uses a chip which can detect certain “biomarkers” - the biological molecules present in bodily samples such as urine or blood that indicate illness.

The process negates the need for pathology laboratory support and is designed to be used in the field, sometimes by part-trained medical auxiliaries, in the fight to prevent disease.

Sapient filed the principle for patent in 2011, and since late 2012 it entered into a PCT application - the process by which international patents are established.

With close links to the North East’s Centre for Process Innovation, and based out of the organisation’s National Printable Electronics Centre in Sedgefield, Sapient have patents pending for their technology in the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia and the US.

Similar to a mobile phone sim card, Sapient’s half inch square chip will be printed onto plastic and plugged into a mobile phone to create a portable diagnostic tool.

Chief executive officer of Sapient Sensors, Dr Keith Robson, explained: “At the moment the technology is qualitative, but with work it could well be quantitative - that is to provide data about disease to central bodies - such as the World Health Organisation.

“We’ve taken the technology to a point where we now require more funding, and that’s what this latest effort its about. We’re roughly a third of the way towards our £1.6m target, and when we reach that mark, the funds will be used to fund sponsored projects.”

Together with partners in CPI and Nottingham Trent spin-out, CompanDX, Sapient have been working on a project to develop a portable diagnosis tool for bovine tuberculosis.

The £1.1m project, funded by the Technology Strategy Board, aims to develop a small hand-held device by November 2016 that veterinarians will use to give an almost instant diagnosis from blood tests at farm sites.

Sapient’s technology underpins the work and their involvement is intended to speed up the route to market for the firm’s human tuberculosis device.

Fund raising efforts are now being supported through crowdfunding platform, VentureFounders, which launched a campaign for Sapient in early September and received £274,000 of backing in 23 days.

Dr Robson added: “The crowdfunding route has been interesting for us. Our area pertains to long term investment and getting that across within the crowdfunding environment is challenging.

“The model requires you to generate a head of steam - and with a very technical product like ours - it can be difficult to generate that excitement. We’re aiming to raise as much funding as we can through traditional means before supplementing it with the crowdfunding avenue.”

Much of Sapient’s work is outsourced, as the company is led by a small team of experienced directors.

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