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Southampton point-of-care diagnostics technology spins out to transform lateral flow testing

Published: 20 April 2021
The new spin-out venture is set to unleash the next generation of lateral flow diagnostics.

Pioneering technology developed in the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics (ZIPN) has spun out and secured initial funding to unleash the next generation of lateral flow diagnostics.

Highfield Diagnostics Ltd (HDx) has developed a patented photonics technology that will provide smart point-of-care testing solutions for many of the most difficult global health challenges, including COVID-19, leishmaniasis, dementia, sepsis, UTIs, AMR, tuberculosis, allergy and asthma.

The spinout becomes the latest addition to a "Light Valley" of successful photonics companies in the Southampton area with their roots in the ZIPN's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC). These companies have significant economic impact in the areas in which they operate, often providing jobs for hundreds of people.

Professor Sir David Payne, Director of the ZIPN and ORC, says: "Laser technology is used across a vast range of scientific and technical disciplines - from the global internet, to advanced manufacturing, imaging and metrology. The HDx team has applied decades of accumulated experience in using lasers, to modify conventional materials - such as metals, glass and crystals - to power a new wave of precision laser-defined, paper-based diagnostics."

The disruptive technology is the result of academic research conducted mainly via funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The HDx founding team includes Professor Robert Eason, Dr Collin Sones, Dr Peijun He and Dr Ioannis Katis.

HDx technology has vast potential for broad, large-scale application within the £5.8 billion lateral flow device market. The company is focussing on a swift transition from research proof-of-principle to full commercial readiness, supported by the Ambershore Group and initial funding by Verge HealthTech Fund.

Dr Sones says: "The spin out of HDx is taking place at a critical moment. The COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on the need for reliable, low-cost and rapid, point-of-care testing, but current lateral flow devices fall short in addressing this need.

"HDx techniques have the ability to transform lateral flow testing - providing multiplexed and semi-quantitative measurement of disease-related biomarkers - with higher sensitivity and a lower limit of detection, using multiple isolated flow paths within a single lateral flow device."

Dr He says: "Research trials using the patented HDx high-sensitivity improvement method, provide early evidence of broad-based commercial application. We have already been able to achieve a signal enhancement of up to 240 percent and an 800 percent improvement in the lower limit-of-detection. In the months ahead we will continue to refine this data to support future commercial collaborations."

HDx will partner with global diagnostics companies to explore and innovate new applications of its technology and with the University of Southampton's Faculty of Medicine to develop a portfolio of proprietary, point-of-care diagnostic solutions that utilise its core technology.

The HDx founding team is joined by a world-class bench of advisors with clinical and diagnostics industry expertise and has entered into a collaboration with Ambershore Group to accelerate commercialization of its core technology and development of early applications.

Amber Curry Gracia, Partner at Ambershore Group, says: "HDx technology strategically targets the shortcomings inherent in the current state of lateral flow devices. This superior approach has the potential to unlock a wave of innovation and open new markets, charting a path for lateral flow to capture a greater share of the £61 billion in-vitro diagnostics market."

An initial pre-seed investment by Verge HealthTech Fund will support the transition from research to commercial readiness and finalization of the go-to-market plan in advance of a seed-stage funding round later this year.

Dr Joseph Mocanu, Managing Partner of Verge HealthTech Fund, says: "Readerless, multiplexed, semi-quantitative, and radically affordable point-of-care diagnostic tests will be critical to preventing illness and managing the health of billions around the world, especially those without proper access to healthcare infrastructure. We see HDx as a key enabler of this vision and we are excited to work with them on their long journey ahead."

The spin-out process was managed by Diana Galpin and David Woolley of Research and Innovation Services (RIS) at the University of Southampton and Zee Zhu of Ambershore Group.

Diana Galpin, Director of Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange at RIS, says: "It is great to see HDx successfully spinout following the recent commercialisation support from Ambershore Group. HDx and the founders have been on a journey with support from RIS, the ICURe Programme and investment from EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). HDx is a promising company, and its platform technology is poised to make a real difference in diagnostic testing and create jobs in the region. We look forward to HDx's continued success."

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