Recycled Cambridge biosensor technology attracts millions in investment
A bevy of global organisations seeking the latest in biosensor technology and armed with several million dollars are flocking to a new Cambridge company set up following the collapse of Akubio.
The US military, UK government, Unipath, a leading tech consultancy and a fifth unnamed international partner are all collaborating with Cambridge Medical Innovations (CMI). The firm was set up by one of the world's largest diagnostic companies, Inverness Medical Innovations (IMI), following its acquisition of Akubio's assets. Leading the charge is the US Army. Through the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), it has provided CMI with $3 million to help it develop a handheld, low power device that can detect biological agents rapidly and accurately. CMI will supply USAMRIID with access to its breakthrough acoustic detection technologies, including proprietary Resonant Acoustic Profiling (RAP) systems. USAMRIID will optimise and develop assays for detection of select bio-threat viruses, bacteria and toxins and will also parallel track development of nucleic acid based assays. The UK government is also interested in the technology and has passed £826,000 to CMI as part of a £1.65m investment to develop new hand-held technology which could help doctors make instant and accurate diagnoses for diseases such as malaria and meningitis. Working with the University of Cambridge and Unipath also part of the Inverness group - the device utilises a simple quartz crystal element and can be powered by standard batteries, potentially enabling doctors to make instant, accurate, atthe-bedside or in-the-field medical diagnoses from blood or other samples. In line with its parent company, Cambridge Medical Innovations is focused on diagnostic technology for consumer and professional diagnostics, specifically products to be used by consumers at home or by physicians at their offices rather than the larger platforms required at major testing centres. CMI has also just licensed a suite of technology to TTP LabTech, which not only generates early revenues for the firm, but together with IMI backing which removes the pressure and distractions that pitching for VC funding entails, helps it focus its attention on building a profitable business with a focus sat squarely on developing diagnostic tools for the professional and consumer 'home' sectors. Successful, mass produced home diagnostic tools already exist in areas such as pregnancy tests and the advantage of being able to diagnose your own viruses, for instance, has a number of potential benefits to the consumer and wider healthcare system. This new approach on low cost, high performance tools is more focused than Akubio's approach and, though slightly higher risk, the rewards could also be higher according to founder and managing director, Dr Matthew Cooper. "The Life Sciences tools market is £2 billion, the diagnostics one we're shooting for is £45bn," said Dr Cooper. "There's more competition out there but we now have IMI backing us." For the home diagnostic, overthe-counter (OTC) devices, CMI will initially concentrate on infection detection and intends to undertake clinical trials and get regulatory approval for both Europe and the US. Once the necessary R & D is complete, Dr Cooper envisages this to take around 12 months. The technology underpinning CMI was developed at the Univer sity of Cambridge and then spun out under Akubio seven years ago, founded by a team from the University's departments of Chemistry and Pathology. They included Dr Cooper, David Klenerman, Victor Ostanin, Tony Minson, Lianne Cabuche, Alexander Slepstov, Fedor Dultsev and Chris Abell. The company was formed to exploit acoustic detection technology, which shaped a device to detect viruses and bacteria quickly and cheaply. Its novel method is able to 'hear' viruses and bacteria being shaken off a surface. These high frequency acoustics can directly detect a range of molecules, bacteria and viruses in both crude samples and complex matrices with minimal need for sample processing or purification. Several rounds of venture capital funding were followed by an attempt at a stock market exit last year, the failure of which eventually led to Akubio's fall into administration, followed soon after by the IMI purchase. Demonstrating that the Cambridge art of business regeneration is alive and well, the majority of the 15 staff on the CMI payroll are former Akubio employees, while the other half dozen or so are from an as of yet unnamed international group, which has just kicked off a new joint venture with the nascent firm. Further growth for the company will, in the short-term at least, be focused on Cambridge according to Dr Cooper: "We're keeping a high calibre, but small team. "It's good to be based here in Cambridge where we can access a lot of expertise with strong diagnostics technology right across the region. "We already collaborate with Addenbrooke's Hospital and then there's the Medical Research Council - and we're also working with Unipath in Bedford."