News in Brief

News in brief: AI helps Aberdeen develop antibody test, Leeds looks at heart imaging for babies

Here at HTN headquarters we’re in the midst of our latest HTN Now event, showcasing innovation and discussion through a series of live webcasts.

But that won’t stop us delivering the news. Already this week, we’ve seen University Hospital Southampton go live with a new maternity app, and there’s also been the launch of the NHS Digital Technology Server.

As always, however, there’s been much more going on behind the main headlines. From AI-powered COVID antibody tests, to heart imaging tech for babies, and a partnership between an NHS trust and a remote monitoring company, as well as plenty of acquisitions and industry news, there’s plenty to get stuck into…

St Thomas’ Hospital to house new radiochemistry unit

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London have together launched an improved, state-of-the-art radiochemistry unit at St Thomas’ Hospital.

The facility, which “produces tracers to help identify cancers and other complex conditions” is part of the £41million Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Centre. The structure was launched in the 90s and has been rebuilt over the past eight years.

According to the trust, the centre is the only NHS facility of its kind in England to have a Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) licence to “produce the tracers from radioactive isotopes for clinical use”.

The facility includes a new cyclotron – a particle accelerator that produces radioactive isotopes – and a radiochemistry laboratory, where the radioactive tracers for PET scans are produced. Across St Thomas’ and the Cancer Centre at Guy’s there are also four scanners available to the trust.

Professor Ian Abbs, Chief Executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Improving the quality of patient care is at the heart of everything we do at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and we have made significant investment in our imaging services in recent years to enhance both clinical service delivery and research, working closely with King’s College London.

“This has included investment in our PET Centre, as PET scans are key to diagnosis and treatment for patients with a number of conditions, including some cancers.  I am delighted that the new cyclotron and radiochemistry laboratory have now been licensed by the MHRA as this will ensure we are able to produce the most modern radiotracers, to the highest standard, onsite next to our scanning suite for the benefit of our patients now and in the future.”

Leeds leads on research into new imaging tech for babies

The University of Leeds is leading research into new incubator imaging technology for babies with congenital heart disease (CHD).

The Baby MRI incubator at Leeds Congenital Heart Unit (LCHU) is being trialled by the university’s School of Medicine, which claims the tech is the first of its kind in the UK to scan babies in this way.

Part of a suite of equipment, it will provide more detailed heart imaging during MRI scans, which clinicians hope could provide earlier diagnoses and help to predict which patients may need surgery in the future.

Funded by the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, with further financial support from Morrisons Foundation, Heart Research UK, Ilkley Round Table and others, the incubator provides doctors with 4D Flow MRI technology that can lower the risks associated with imaging and reduce scan time.

Dr Malenka Bissell, Clinical Lecturer of Paediatric Cardiology in the School of Medicine, said: “The research we are currently undertaking makes the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit the first in the UK to scan babies with congenital heart disease this way.

“In combination with the equipment funded by the charity, 4D Flow MRI technology is paving the way to improve diagnostic pathways for these patients.

“Uncertainty can be one of the most stressful parts for parents, so we’re now looking at how we can use advanced imaging markers to improve our ability to predict when and if a patient will need surgery.

Children’s Heart Surgery Fund CEO Sharon Milner, commented: “I must pay tribute to the many trusts, foundations and other funders who helped us purchase this vital technology – thank you for supporting hearts for life.

“This game-changing research will make a huge difference to babies born with heart disease and their families for years to come in our region.”

AI used to help develop COVID antibody test

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have developed antibody tests that can detect whether people have been exposed to new COVID-19 variants.

Created in collaboration with biotech group Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd and NHS Grampian, Aberdeen says the tests detect responses with “98% accuracy and 100% specificity.”

The tests can also now help to detect whether people have long-term immunity –  and whether this is due to vaccines or infection-induced immunity.

Professor Mirela Delibegovic, academic lead on the project, said: “Accurate antibody tests will become increasingly important in the management of the pandemic and this is a truly game-changing technology with the potential to dramatically change the trajectory of global recovery from the pandemic.”

The team developed the tests using artificial intelligence called EpitopePredikt to pick out parts of the virus that trigger the immune response, followed by antibody technology, a biological platform called EpitoGen Technology, to display the viral elements. It’s believed this approach “enhances the test’s performance”, including only “relevant viral elements”.

It’s hoped that, in the future, the EpitoGen platform can also be used to develop “sensitive” and “specific” diagnostic tests for other infectious diseases and auto-immune diseases, such as Type 1 Diabetes.

Dr Tiehui Wang, Director of Biologics at Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd, commented: “The EpitoGen tests are the first of their kind and will play a significant role in combating the pandemic and pave the way for future diagnostics”.

Yorkshire & Humber AHSN works with Healthy.Io

Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) has been working with health tech company Healthy.Io to support the roll-out of Minuteful kidney, a smartphone-based urine analysis device which enables home urine testing.

The simple test, developed by Healthy.Io, is helping people living with diabetes to identify early signs of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Due to low uptake of urinary albumin tests, which help monitor kidney health, CKD can sometimes be missed until it becomes symptomatic and more serious. The home urine testing aims to help reach patients and make testing easier to do, without travel.

So far, 11 practices in Leeds have implemented the service with 1,500 patients agreeing to be sent the test – and 1,317 of these having completed it successfully from home.

Dr Sab Gogna, Clinical Director and GP at Fountain Medical Centre in Leeds, said: “Setting up home urinary ACR testing in our practice has been incredibly simple and easy. We had great support to get it up and running from

“So far, it has allowed us to engage with harder to reach patients and overall has really increased uptake of ACR testing, quickly identifying people who are at risk so we can follow-up. Using the service has meant we can focus on maintaining kidney care even during these difficult times for primary care.”

Neville Young, Director of Enterprise and Innovation at the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN, added: “Innovations like the one developed by Healthy.Io are critical to help improve patient outcomes and also address health inequalities by looking at ways to engage with hard-to-reach communities and ensure they receive the care they need, especially now that people are more concerned about accessing clinical settings.”

Novo Holdings acquires BBI Group for £400 million

Novo Holdings A/S, a global life sciences investor, has announced its acquisition of BBI Group, which supplies products and services to diagnostics and life sciences industries, from Exponent for an enterprise value of over £400 million.

Novo Holding, which has its headquarters in Copenhagen, currently has a portfolio of more than 120 life science companies. It will now also be the majority shareholder of BBI, which is headquartered in South Wales and employs over 400 employees across seven countries.

The company provides critical reagents and immunoassay development, lateral flow development, diagnostic manufacturing services, and smartphone reader technologies. Its blue-chip customer base also includes Thermo-Fisher, Merck and Siemens.

Johan Hueffer, Senior Partner at Novo Holdings, said: “We are proud to be the next owners of BBI. Diagnostics is a very attractive space which, with an enhanced global focus on preventative medicine, will play an increasingly important part in improving health outcomes for patients around the world.  We see tremendous opportunities for both organic and inorganic growth for the company. Novo Holdings is looking forward to contributing its considerable industry expertise and extensive network in supporting the talented team at BBI.”

New precision medicine hub offers collaboration

The diagnostic commercialisation company Diaceutics has a new Precision Medicine hub – and is inviting innovators in healthcare technology to collaborate with them on advancing new scientific discoveries

The hub, Dataworks, is part of Belfast’s Kings Hall Life Sciences. Diaceutics says research groups, companies and healthcare organisations can choose to co-locate or work alongside their team, to gain access to their Global Data Repository through a joint Data Collaboration Agreement.

Diaceutics’ precision medicine diagnostic testing data repository can give access to de-identified patient testing records from over 300 million patient records and work with 49 disease-specific treatment pathways.

Peter Keeling, Chief Executive Officer of Diaceutics, said: The value of real-world data for precision medicine is now key to precision medicine commercialisation yet is so multidimensional that it requires collaboration to be fully realised, which is why we invite key stakeholders in the space to join us in exploring uses outside and adjacent to those we are applying today. We envisage Dataworks as a thriving and creative data hub of data analytics companies, medical professionals and patient centric groups collaborating in a shared space.

“At Dataworks, data analytics will live alongside a flow of patients and professionals, focused on understanding and improving patient health. The future of healthcare is data enabled, Dataworks has been designed with that in mind, I am convinced new learnings and innovations will arise from living alongside the front line of healthcare.”

Imperial College Healthcare links up with Luscii 

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is collaborating with the remote healthcare innovator, Luscii, to provide an at-home monitoring platform for patients with heart failure.

The Luscii platform has been rolled out to patients who have previously been required to undertake numerous in-person hospital visits and is the latest pathway in the Connected Care Programme – iCareConnect – in north west London, which aims to deliver better, easier to access care that is more cost-effective.

An AI-powered ‘Clinical Engine’ is designed to spot early warning signs of patient deterioration and alert Imperial College’s team of healthcare specialists, who can “immediately triage the situation” and provide “necessary patient support or resources”. The technology also can also help ensure that remote patients are on optimal medications at optimal doses.

Exscientia acquires Allcyte

Exscientia, a clinical stage pharmatech company, has entered into a binding agreement to acquire Allcyte, which works with AI-based precision medicine.

Allcyte has delivered a platform that can anticipate the effectiveness of cancer treatments by using AI to analyse the activity of drugs in live patient samples at single-cell resolution.

By joining Exscientia, its platform will now be expanded and extended into early discovery. This means that its technologies will be applied from target discovery and drug optimisation to patient selection – allowing discovery projects to be assessed in a biological setting that reflects the patient environment, and improves translation from laboratory to clinic.

Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia’s CEO, said: “Allcyte is able to demonstrate what therapy actually works in the individual patient with the most disease relevant screening platform we have seen. Combining Allcyte’s platform with Exscientia’s technologies can redefine how drugs are developed, enabling integrated discovery and patient selection. Allcyte has assembled an outstanding team in Vienna and integration of the two platforms truly allows us to build our vision of patient-first AI.”

The transaction is currently being reviewed under the customary Austrian regulatory process prior to closing. Exscientia will pay €50 million, comprising cash and Exscientia ordinary shares, and it plans to expand the Vienna site as its hub in the European Union.