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9 April, 2014 - 12:12 By News Desk

Cambridge seven claim share of healthcare millions

Karen-Livingstone

Seven companies from the Cambridge medical technology cluster have won a share of £12.7 million funding from SBRI healthcare in a UK government backed programme.

Owlstone, Aseptika, Team Consulting, Cambridge Respiratory Innovations Limited, PsychologyOnline, Inotec AMD and TwistDx are among a record 44 companies recognised in the round.

This latest round of competitions also included the first example in the country of phase 3 SBRI funding, with eight companies awarded up to £1m each to evaluate and validate their SBRI Healthcare backed products in NHS settings.

Aseptika has been awarded phase 3 support – in addition to phase 1 funding for a new project.

SBRI Healthcare is an NHS England funded initiative to develop innovative products and services that address unmet health needs.

SBRI looked for companies across eight categories: Cancer, cardiovascular, COPD, diabetes, end of life, mental health, patient safety and research tools.

Karen Livingstone, director of SBRI Healthcare, said: “SBRI Healthcare has seen steady growth since it was developed back in 2007. This last year has seen a rapid expansion, both in terms of the number of companies involved and the level of funding.

“This funding growth is testament to the programme’s success and reaffirms NHS England’s commitment to healthcare innovation and evidencing the contribution of the NHS to the wider economy.

“We are seeing exciting new technologies and products that will bring a sea change in patient care. The programme is also building successful business in the life science sector – vital for UK growth.”

Startup Aseptika has devised a home-based rapid and quantative test for a common bacterial lung infection suffered by patients with cystic fibrosis (CF).

The test, when commercialised, could lead to a reduction in hospital admissions and length of stay as well as improving healthcare outcomes for CF and COPD patients.

There are now over 10,000 patients in the UK with CF1 and recognising the significant cost of these patients to the NHS in January 2012, the Department of Health introduced the CF ‘year of care tariff’, with a cost per patient (excluding the cost of medication) banded in increments of up to £41,000 pa.

A typical course of treatment as an in patient is 5–8 days but can be as long as 14 days. Frequent visits to clinics for routine check-ups and as in patients during and exacerbation is also highly disruptive for the patients and their families.

At present it is not possible to predict which antibiotics will be clinically effective for which patient. Doctors choose antibiotics empirically and are forced to rely on monitoring the patient’s response after 5-7 days to see if the patient is recovering and if not, whether a change in treatment is needed.

The Aseptika test will be in the same format as a pregnancy test – a lateral flow device – so it can be used at home as part of a self-monitoring solution. Patients will add a sample of their sputum to the test to see how active (virulent) the bacteria in their lungs are at any one time. By seeing if the levels of the biomarkers are increasing, they can see when an exacerbation is about to begin.

Kevin Auton, managing director for Aseptika Ltd says that SBRI schemes are invaluable for the UK star-up business sector. “Given that the balance of economic power has shifted to the Far East, simple schemes like the SBRI operated by Government Departments are required to build a thriving small business sector, especially in the health and technology arenas.

“SBRI works so well because it combines the injection of relatively small amounts of money which make a big difference to a small company in its ability to develop the new products the public sector needs (the push) with a partnership with an expert customer such as the CF clinicians in the NHS (the pull).

“Constant interaction with expert clinicians to shape the product’s development, early involvement with patients and health charities to hear the voice of the user and the tangible support behind the scenes from Health Enterprise East, bring value that extends way beyond just the funding.

“The integrated approach (the push + pull) of pre-procurement contracts from government departments enables small companies like Aseptika to innovate and compete.”

He says that his company would never have been able to raise funding for such an early-stage idea had it not been for SBRI backing.

“SBRI funding is the fairy dust that allows companies to start working on their great ideas alongside the expert customer. It is really important not to develop products in a vacuum. You need to hear where you are getting it wrong as early as possible so that you can quickly adjust to make the products that the clinicians and their patients need.”

Aseptika was granted a patent protecting its invention for the use of biomarkers in the detection of bacterial infection in September 2013 and will rely on the protection of this patent as it further develops and subsequently commercialises its product.

The preparation of the patent application, its filing, examination and eventual grant, was supported by the SBRI programme.

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