Company offers COVID-19 antibody testing with support from the SIGHT programme and the University
For NTL Biologica, a company supported by the ERDF-funded SIGHT programme, a
a precarious position has turned into an opportunity to grow and contribute to a great cause.
From stem cell to COVID
NTL Biologica – a small enterprise producing bone marrow growing kits – found itself in a precarious position when all of their orders were cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the core business suspended, the company director Ian Graney made a decision to use the company’s expertise and state-of-the art equipment to contribute to the fight against the virus, and open a new line of business – antibody testing ‘on the go’.
The company’s antibody testing takes place on a bus, this means that instead of asking people to travel to a location or go to a drive-through testing centre, NTL can bring the testing facility to the community, minimising the risks associated with travel. The antibody test requires 20 milliliters of blood to be drawn for the result to be known as soon as 15 minutes later.
Helping companies assess risk
Ian and his company carry out the testing for communities, but also for companies who want to know how many of their employees have had the disease. By finding out who has had COVID-19 and who may have developed antibodies, the employers are in a better position to assess the risk to their staff and adjust their policies and procedures, for example moving employees to or from customer-facing roles and deciding for or against travel. The anonymised data is also used to inform the wider state of the pandemic by tracking the development of immunity in large groups.
Support from SIGHT and the University
The bus used for testing is part-funded by the SIGHT programme grant. Ian has been very involved in this ERDF-funded programme, run jointly by the University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth Hospital Trust and the Wessex CRN, engaging with other company members and supporting other SMEs operating in the healthcare technology sector.
Despite the challenging environment for healthcare companies, Ian thinks that businesses like NTL have the opportunity to not only survive but also make a meaningful contribution to the fight against COVID-19: ‘Take a deep breath, don’t panic. There’s a lot to be done and there are a lot of businesses who are easily geared to becoming part of the solution in the fight against Coronavirus in a small or a larger extent’
The company is hoping to soon start a clinical trial with the Portsmouth Technologies Trial Unit, in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, working on an exciting new project in stem cell application in orthopaedics. Ian is keen on strengthening the company’s ties with the institution: ‘We are very grateful for the support of SIGHT and we are proud to be working with the University of Portsmouth’.
Infrared light spectroscopy in predicting lung flare-ups
Formed in 2013, Glyconics has developed a number of products which use infrared light spectroscopy to produce distinguished cell fingerprints in healthy and non-healthy samples. These products consist of a single piece of hardware with an inbuilt predictive algorithm, which allows for the diagnostic testing facility to be used at the patient Point of Care (POC).
The first sector for application of the Glyconics’ solution is in respiratory disease, specifically COPD, which is how the company became involved with the SIGHT Programme and Portsmouth University. In healthcare, there is a serious problem in determining when major lung attacks could occur in COPD patients. The Glyconics’ device uses sputum at the POC and can predict whether a flair-up is likely to occur ahead of time. This means a patient could be treated at home or in the community setting, to either prevent or reduce a flair-up and avoid a hospital admission.
Non-invasive type 2 diabetes detection
The second application, using infrared spectroscopy, is screening for risk of Type 2 Diabetes. For this screening, there is no requirement for a blood sample; instead a sensor that sits on a patient’s finger is used, similar to a pulse-oximeter, which are already very common in both primary and secondary healthcare settings. This technology will help identify those living with Type 2 Diabetes, who are unaware of it; a high percentage of those patients could reverse their diabetes with a proper treatment plan.
Challenges and successes
COVID and the UK lockdown impacted Glyconics quite heavily as many patients, who would normally be enrolled in their clinical studies, had to ‘shield’ and were unable to participate. Portsmouth University Hospital and SIGHT have been able to assist them to keep on track by supplying frozen samples. This enabled the research to continue.
Glyconics has also recently won a Phase 1 grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to explore the feasibility of implementing a point-of-care diagnostic platform for diabetic screening in developing countries.
Finally, Glyconics has been awarded the internationally recognised ISO 13485:2016 and EN ISO 13485:2016 quality certification for the design and development of their range of diagnostic medical devices. The scope of the certification includes the “design and development of medical devices for the diagnosis and monitoring of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the screening of diabetes mellitus”, following a review by BSI.
SIGHT gave Glyconics access to the Wessex AHSN as well as Portsmouth University Hospital clinicians. The SIGHT Programme has not only allowed Glyconics to get recognition for what they are doing but, also, gain access and credibility with clinicians in order to have clinical conversations and refine the product offering.
Glyconics felt that partners such as University or Portsmouth, Portsmouth University Hospital and the SIGHT Programme allowed them to gain knowledge in areas where their strengths did not previously lie i.e. regulatory expertise. In turn, by sharing their journey, others in a similar situation or with comparable goals can learn and benefit from the information and experiences of Glyconics. They have found that the level of one-to-one engagement provided through the SIGHT Programme is outstanding and they have never experienced anything like it elsewhere.
SIGHT helps provide knowledge to progress the project. Company’s CEO, Kam Pooni, believes that many great innovations are probably being lost because people do not know how to navigate the development and commercialisation process. SIGHT helps to bridge that gap and provides suitable access and resources to help innovators gain ground and traction with their solutions.
Exciting Future Plans
Ethics approval has recently been given to Glyconics for a clinical study to diagnose lung cancer at the Point of Care. The company will also be applying for a SIGHT Programme grant to support this effort.
In the future, Glyconics will be looking towards CE Marking their products. They will also be developing pilot programmes through the University and Hospital. A case study at Portsmouth University Hospital will be conducted to assess health economics of the solution, allowing them to move forward with access to the NHS marketplace.
International collaboration for chronic wound treatment
The DERMA project, supported by Interreg 2 Seas programme, is now coming to the end of its 4-year venture. DERMA is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Brighton and University of Gent, who joined forces with the University of Portsmouth and biotech business facilitator, Eurasante, based in Lille, France. DERMA developed from a previous research project, Biocare Marine, which involved the use of marine polymers to develop novel biomaterials.
The DERMA team has developed dressing materials for the future care of chronic wounds – including a proof-of-concept diagnostic dressing to detect infection and new materials for odour management and controlled antimicrobial delivery. Simon Toh, Consultant Surgeon, Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust says: ‘This is an exciting innovative material that addresses a great need to eliminate odours from chronic wound ulcers that blight the existence of our patients, limiting their social & personal lives. DERMA could have other promising applications too, like incorporating it into negative pressure dressings for surgical wounds, and for stoma care.’
The DERMA showcase event
The DERMA Project will be hosting a public event to demonstrate the outcomes of the project and its achievements. This showcase event will be held virtually on the 25th November 2020 and is open to anyone who would like to learn more about the project, including those from a clinical or a commercial background. A current affairs-style documentary programme, telling the story of the project and its results, will be followed by interactive panel discussions on chronic wound management – problems and solutions. Panel participants will include academics, clinicians, and industry experts.
How the SIGHT Programme is helping DERMA achieve its goals
The SIGHT and DERMA projects share common ground in terms of funding streams and institutional involvement. The SIGHT network has provided MedTech outreach within the UK to complement that of DERMA partner Eurasante in France, so extending and enhancing pathways to impact.
The DERMA team feels that the SIGHT Programme has allowed access to new networks. The proactive advice and leadership from SIGHT has been essential and invaluable in extending the reach of the DERMA project to a broader range of potential collaborators and stakeholders, which it might not have engaged with otherwise.
The DERMA team would like to work with the SIGHT programme to explore the possibility of clinical testing of the materials in collaboration with the Portsmouth Technology Trials Unit and Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust.
Ultimately, the DERMA consortium seeks to further develop the project materials and identify routes to market for technology transfer, for example by securing funding to increase the technology readiness levels, or by connecting with relevant companies that may wish to integrate DERMA components into their own product ranges.