Dame Sally Davies, CMO for England, launching the Discovery Awards at the Science Museum, May 2016
Judges have been assessing Discovery Awards applications over the last few weeks, and this week we reviewed their decisions. Winners of the awards will be announced on the 21st November, as we celebrate the second anniversary of the launch of the Longitude Prize.
At the end of August, at our closing deadline, we had received 76 applications for Discovery Awards. These awards are seed funding grants of up to £25,000 per team, to help them further develop their ideas for a diagnostic test that could win the Longitude Prize. There was great diversity in the entries for grants: applications represented teams from 19 countries, including Australia, Cameroon, Chile, China, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Uganda, the US and UK. The team leaders were from a range of disciplines, including engineering, physics and chemistry as well as biology and microbiology.
To apply for a Discovery Award teams had to first register on the Longitude Prize website, joining other teams already working on ideas. With the added incentive of Discovery Awards we saw an incredible 87 new teams register for the Prize between mid-May and the end of August this year. At the time of writing, we have a total of 206 teams registered, representing 39 countries.
Consistent with this wider group of registered teams, the teams applying for a Discovery Award are also working on a range of diagnostic tests, focused on different infections and using different sample types. Some teams are working on tests that will identify whether there is a bacterial infection or not, other tests will indicate the type of bacterial infection, or the exact bacterial strain. Other teams are developing tests that will provide information about the resistance or susceptibility of the bacterial infection to different types of antibiotics.
Bacteria and sample types
Teams are working on tests that will diagnose urinary tract infections, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, childhood pneumonia or sepsis, as well as identifying specific bacteria including MRSA and E. coli. Sample types being used to achieve the output required include blood, urine, faeces and saliva.
We’ve seen tests designed to work either through identifying the bacteria causing the infection or by identifying the presence of an immune response to the infection. Teams are using a wide range of approaches to achieve this – including identifying swimming patterns of specific bacteria, detecting respiratory gases emitted as a result of bacterial metabolism or proteins produced by the body’s immune system when an infection occurs, as well as bacterial DNA and RNA sequences.
These markers are being detected using varied methods including ultraviolet light, infrared signals, colour changes, fluorescence, and magnetic nanoparticles, amongst others.
Stages and prototypes
As we expected, there is an enormous range in the activities and outcomes of work carried out. Teams are at a variety of stages, all the way from clarifying and working on new ideas, achieving proof of concept, and on through testing and the design and development of their prototype. Prototypes include dipstick tests, smart phone attachments and applications, and swabs.
Examples of some of the activities that teams wanted to carry out include purchasing bacteria or other samples, buying laboratory equipment, securing key skills needed, carrying out IP research, designing and building their prototypes, and engaging experts on all aspects of development.
We look forward to informing and awarding the successful teams identified by our Discovery Award Panel. However, we also know there will be many unsuccessful teams out of our 76, and many others who could potentially develop the winning test. Over the coming months we’ll continue our efforts to help all teams move through the development of their ideas, which will include trying to secure more funds for more Discovery Awards.
Enter the Prize
The Longitude Prize is a £10m prize fund that will reward a competitor that can develop a point–of–care diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare. The test must be accurate, rapid, affordable and easy to use anywhere in the world.