A pioneering medical device company based at Newcastle’s International Centre for Life is making major strides towards commercialisation of its diagnostic technology after securing new financial backing equating to more than $2m (£1.4m).
OJ Bio, which is working on a tool to enable the swift detection of infectious diseases, will receive the funding in a series of project investments from its Japanese electronics partner, Japan Radio Co Ltd (JRC), allowing it to grow its technical production and business development capabilities significantly.
The company has taken on new staff, bringing headcount to 14, and chief executive Dale Athey is hopeful of growing that figure to over 20 within the next 12 to 18 months. With plans to increase manufacturing both in Japan and the North East, the company is also investigating the possibility of securing larger premises in the region.
Established in 2009, OJ Bio combines the electronics expertise of JRC with advanced protein technology developed by Orla Protein Technologies, originally a spin-out business from Newcastle University.
The joint venture company has successfully completed a prototype of biochip technology that accurately and quickly identifies the presence of infectious diseases in patient samples, with the results being displayed on an accompanying smartphone app or PC-based software.
The new funding - which comes on top of previous investments from JRC and Orla, as well as various grants and limited commercial revenues - will allow it to progress through preliminary trials designed the validate and verify the product’s efficacy before moving through to an official clinical trial, then eventually commercialisation.
Within the past month, three new jobs have been created, with the business taking on a new technical director and laboratory staff, as well as engaging a business development specialist in the EU.
Mr Athey said: “We are delighted with the partnership established with JRC and the support they have provided.
“We are at the leading edge of wireless point of care diagnostics, but the highly specialist and advanced scientific areas we are working in means that product and technology development lead times are lengthy.
“This new support from our Japanese partners means we can continue to build momentum towards the successful commercialisation of the technology.
“In particular, it will enable us to respond positively to the considerable interest that has been expressed in our device from medical, dental, veterinary, cosmetics and other sectors.”
At the moment, the technology is focused on the remote diagnosis and monitoring of HIV, respiratory viruses and periodontal gum disease.
The new investment will enable OJ Bio to develop these applications further while initiating a new product development programme that will involve the recruitment of additional laboratory, technical and business development staff.
Both the extension of current commercial contracts as well as the development of new products will be overseen by Dr Martha Garrity, formerly a technical director at Immunodiagnostic Systems plc, who has now joined OJ Bio in a similar capacity.
Tatsuro Masamura, director and executive officer of JRC, said: “This has been a highly successful collaboration and the medical device products now being jointly developed have considerable global market potential.
“We are delighted to support the growth ambitions of OJ Bio and will continue to work with them to help accelerate the commercial development of the business.”