U.K. government funding supports next-stage development of biosensor for flu diagnosis

A new biosensor device for flu diagnosis, under development by Newcastle, U.K.-based firm OJ-Bio, will move to its next stage with government backing toward the £1 million-plus project from Biomedical Catalyst, a program of public funding designed to deliver growth to the U.K. life sciences sector.

OJ-Bio made the announcement Dec. 18, stating that its device is intended to provide rapid, simple and low cost diagnosis of flu and respiratory conditions.

The new technology combines specialized biosensor materials with advanced electronics in a small hand-held device for the accurate detection of flu and other respiratory conditions from patient-supplied samples, according to OJ-Bio.

The device can be used at the patient’s bedside or other point of care; the results are available within minutes  -- and without samples being sent for laboratory analysis.

OJ-Bio has worked with the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency over the past three years to develop and test the new biosensor device, which successfully detected three potent respiratory viruses much more quickly than current methods, the company explained.

Included in the test protocol are the Influenza A and B viruses, common flu strains previously linked to some major epidemics, and Respiratory Synctyial Virus, a major cause of coughs and chest infections.

OJ-Bio said the latest funding approval would enable the company to build on its existing work by developing lab-based prototypes into a fully functional pilot device capable of carrying out large scale clinical trials.

Dale Athey, chief executive of OJ-Bio, said in a press release accompanying the announcement, “Flu viruses cause misery for millions of people each year and early diagnosis is vital. Drugs are only effective in the first few days after symptoms appear and current tests, which involve laboratory analysis of samples, simply aren’t fast enough."

Athey added, “Our new device provides a low-cost test that dramatically improves the speed of diagnosis and treatment that should hit the disease at source and limit its ability to spread.”

OJ-Bio is a joint venture between Newcastle-based biotechnology company Orla Protein Technologies and the Japan Radio Company (JRC). Orla provides the specialist biosensor materials that combine with JRC’s electronics capability to create the new "biochip" technology platform.

The biochip allows the diagnostic device to analyze samples from the patient, and display the results on a complementary hand-held reading device such as a mobile phone. JRC’s technology also enables the detection device to be wirelessly connected to healthcare networks.

OJ-Bio said it will now embark on new product design work and multi channel biochip development, alongside further investigation into the results reader and associated software needs. This will involve extensive input from doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff, and will result in the development of a fully working device that can be used in extensive clinical trials, according to the company.

The development work on the flu diagnosis device also has the potential to be adapted for other infectious diseases, OJ-Bio noted.

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