The best of biotech

Young British entrepreneurs are changing the world with inventions that boost health and save money

Britain’s biotech sector is booming, with new businesses thanks to pioneering drug therapies, smart devices and innovations in long-distance ‘tele-health’. And the new products being developed can bring financial savings as well as benefits at the bedside.

‘It’s a hugely vibrant sector,’ says Matthew Foy, an investment partner at SROne, GSK’s venture-capital fund. ‘Young entrepreneurs changing the world are no long the exclusive domain of the tech industry.

‘All of the biotech start-ups in OneStart are founded by scientists 35 or younger and based on their own cutting-edge research.’

Along with Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, SROne has launched OneStart, the world’s largest life sciences and healthcare startup accelerator. Here are ten of the most exciting UK prospects on the health horizon that it is now supporting…

Anaemia

AnemiPoint is an accurate, affordable device that tests levels of haemoglobin (the protein which makes red blood cells red) and haematocrit (the volume of red blood cells) from a single drop of blood. Winner of OneStart two years ago, this handheld diagnostic device from Imperial College-originated Eva Diagnostics not only looks promising for improving treatment of anaemia, but also may have applications in blood cancers and for home monitoring. www.evadiagnostics.com

Cancer

Beamline Diagnostics has developed a new way to diagnose pre-cancerous markers. The technology, developed by Liberty Foreman and Katherine Oliver during the final stages of a PhD at University College London, uses infrared spectroscopy on a tissue sample taken by biopsy. Sophisticated algorithms and analyses of refractive patterns reveal subtle differences between healthy and diseased samples. www.beamlinediagnostics.com

Bladder infections

The basic style of urinary catheter hasn’t changed for 80 years, yet it does not always drain the bladder and often causes serious infection. UroLogic’s new catheter solves this problem with a smart, unfurling material and it has the potential to reduce avoidable complications. It was designed by Cambridge Medical Materials PhD student Nawar Al-Zebari, who believes it could significantly reduce the £500 million a year that the NHS spends on treating bladder infections.

Parkinson’s disease

Most current drugs for Parkinson’s target the ‘dopamine pathway’. They can limit symptoms, but have a limited lifespan before they stop working. Now a start-up from UCL Pharmacy called Keregen is developing a new disease modifier that tries to addresses one of the underlying causes of Parkinson’s — a misfolded protein called Nrf2. European winner of OneStart last year, Keregen’s goal is to create innovative dementia medicines which preserve cell quality, prevent degeneration and promote longevity. www.keregen.co.uk

Tremors

Among the most debilitating effects of Parkinson’s are physical tremors that limit daily activities such as getting dressed, eating and using keys. A team of engineers, designers and medics from Imperial College London aim to resolve this problem without drugs with an invention called GyroGear. Patients wear a glove fitted with a high-spec gyroscope to suppress involuntary movement of the hand. Repeated use can override these destabilising tremors, giving sufferers the chance to regain motor control of their hands and improve their lives. www.gyrogear.co

Drug purification

Puridify is a bioprocessing company formed in 2013 as a spin-off from research at University College London. It is finding novel ways to reduce the time and cost of purification during the drug- manufacturing process, reducing total costs by as much as a quarter. This means that a new generation of biologic drug treatments that currently don’t make economic sense thanks to a limited return on investment can get to the market faster and more cheaply, meaning millions more patients can benefit in future. www.puridify.com

Antenatal health

At the moment the only way to deal with any complication in late pregnancy is to induce labour and rely on neo-natal care. Manchester-based LipoPep has developed a delivery system that can target drugs directly to the placenta, allowing treatment of placental abnormalities with minimal risk to mother or child. Improved placental health (better blood flow, for example) could mean fewer premature labours and safer deliveries at full term.

Cardiology

The world’s first removable trans-catheter heart valve has been developed by a group called Cambridge Card. Current synthetic models are better than the old type of valve which required open-heart surgery because they can be inserted via an artery in the leg using keyhole surgery. But they have a limited lifespan: fine if you are 85, but not ideal for younger patients. The new variety offers the chance to replace valves safely as they deteriorate.

Pulmonary health

Measuring heart and lung health in patients on ventilators and in intensive care is critical but extremely difficult. So a new device called the InspiWave, created by the Respiratory Physiology and Biomedical Engineering Group at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Oxford, could make a huge difference. It can be plugged into a ventilator to monitor vital statistics such as partial pressure in the lungs at the end of an outward breath. Its inventors hope to develop spin-off devices for use in the home.

Gut bacteria

The millions of bacteria in our gut are the subject of intense study as scientists try to develop ways of using them in positive nutrition — think of all those yoghurts which promise to improve digestion. Now start-up firm BioMe has developed an ingestible device to improve the diagnostics of gastrointestinal problems. Patients can swallow a pill-shaped device that will sample the makeup of intestinal bacteria and send back an analysis which can help with early diagnosis and warn if a patient is not responding to treatment or needs additional support.