Winners of the Discovery Awards

22 Nov 2016
Written by
Longitude team

Last night we awarded our Discovery Awards to 12 teams from the US, UK and India. After launching our seed fund in May and receiving over 70 applications from 19 countries, we are thrilled to announce the winners. The Awards ceremony took place at the Royal Society in London and was hosted by Lord Martin Rees, Chair of the Longitude Committee.

The Discovery Awards were possible thanks to GSK and India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council

During the ceremony we also announced that we will be able to run a second round of Discovery Awards thanks to generous support from Merck & Co*. The new funding, totaling £250,000, will enable us to support more teams to develop their ideas and enter the Longitude Prize. The funds will also help broaden the range of innovators competing for the £8 million award to find a rapid test that helps rule out unnecessary use of antibiotics. We are currently developing the fund and expect to open it for applications before the end of the year. Check longitudeprize.org for full details in the weeks to come.

Team name: FiNDeR

From Bangalore - India
Idea: Biomarker based diagnostic to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections
Team members:
Shridhar Narayanan
RadhaKrishan Shandil
Vijay Potluri
Summary: The FiNDeR team consists of passionate drug hunters located in Bangalore, India, with multidisciplinary expertise and a strong track record of innovation and delivery of novel drugs and diagnostics for infectious disease. The proposed test will explore the possibility of developing a fast and cost-effective diagnostic to differentiate between viral and bacterial infections in the community setting. The diagnostic may also be applied in the intensive care or hospital settings. The idea involves combining the host based biomarker(s) with the viral and/or bacterial proteins by exploiting dielectrophoretic properties of bacteria and viruses for speedy separation on a strip based diagnostic tool. We envision the tool to be easy to administer and interpret by local pharmacist or primary health care personnel even in a remote setting with minimal infrastructure. This test will aid responsible use and reduction in the misuse of antibiotics by distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections in the community setting.

Team name: OmiX Labs

From Bangalore - India

Idea: AMR Signature Assays for Predicting Susceptibility to Existing and Repurposed Drugs
Team members:
Sudeshna Adak
Abhinanda Sarkar
Bhagya C T
Sandhya Sadanandan
Sharmishtha Samantaray
Vidhi Puri
Summary: OmiX Labs is dedicated to developing diagnostic tools and devices that can be used outside of hospital laboratories. Our initial products are based on nucleic acid testing (NAT) for infections from blood and urine samples. The high sensitivity and specificity of our technology lends itself naturally to detecting antimicrobial resistant strains of pathogens by seeking out genes and mutations known to be linked to resistance.

The founders come with extensive experience in quantitative biomedical science, having led groups and carried out research at GE Healthcare, IBM Research, Harvard School of Public Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. The team of highly motivated scientists have expertise in fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, applied biotechnology and synthetic chemistry, clinical research, statistics and bioinformatics. The multidisciplinary expertise is helping the team carve a path from bench to bedside in the development of antimicrobial resistance tests.

OmiX Labs is based in Bangalore, India, and has several collaborations including Indian Institute of Science, National Chemical Laboratory, and rural diagnostics centres in India. Our mission is to make healthcare different by bringing antimicrobial resistance testing to even the smallest of diagnostic centres and clinics and help tackle the menace of drug resistance.

Team name: University of Delhi South Campus

From Delhi - India
Idea: Resistance-genes-array based rapid detection of AMR and algorithm-driven therapy
Team members:
Prof. J.S. Virdi
Dr. Manish Kumar
Dr. Priyanka Bajaj
Ms. Abhishikha Srivastava
Dr. Neelja Singhal
Mr. Nambram S. Singh
Summary: The University of Delhi South Campus' AMR Team includes microbiologists, bioinformaticians and biotechnologists trained in AMR, microbial genomics and informatics. The team has two advisors: a clinical microbiologist specializing in AMR and a microfluidics expert. The team members have been working on AMR for over a decade.

The team is developing an under-30 minute test for detection of antimicrobial resistance in a clinical sample, and identify the most appropriate antibiotic for treatment. The test intends to integrate three proven technologies: a microfluidics platform incorporating microarrays for detection of antibiotic resistance genes including mutations, and an algorithm-driven selection of most effective antibiotics for treatment. The hardware and the software are to be housed into a tablet format which is portable, battery/on-line operated and USB enabled.

The test will enable the physician to detect AMR and prescribe the most effective antibiotics to a patient within 30 minutes of when the patient lands in the clinic or hospital. This will stop all empiric prescription of antibiotics, allow quick control of infections and reduce emergence of antibiotic resistant strains. All these together will translate into a substantial reduction in use of antibiotics and thus reduction in emergence of AMR.

Team name: Valetude Primus

From Delhi - India
Idea: SiMED: A novel portable device for early stage detection and categorization of blood bacterial infection
Team members:
Vikas Pandey
Saurabh Singh
Dr. RaviKrishnan Elangovan
Summary: Valetude Primus is a technology spinoff from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, with the mission to develop innovative, affordable and quality healthcare solutions. We started our journey with infectious disease diagnosis and motivated by the fact that almost 30% of annual deaths in low resource countries are caused by communicable diseases. Moreover, rampant misuse of antibiotics has generated resistance among common microbial pathogens increasing mortality and morbidity.

We have developed an affordable, rapid diagnostic technology named SiMED (Spot Immuno Magnetic Enrichment Device) that might reduce current diagnosis turnaround time from several days to few hours. SiMED is a novel patented technology capable of enriching infectious cells 10000X and with a detection limit of ~10 cfu/ml. The principle of this technology is based on selective isolation of the bacterial pathogens among millions of other blood cells using super paramagnetic nanoparticles and confirming the microbial infection using fluorescence imaging. SiMED is an automated, portable, contained system that omits the requirement of additional infrastructure and trained microbiologists. This technology, if deployed, will enable physicians to prescribe the antibiotics only to the patients who need them. We believe that is the way forward for our healthy future.

Team name: Vitas Pharma

From Hyderabad - India
Idea: A rapid molecular assay to test for bacterial pathogens in patient samples
Team members:
Dr Radha Rangarajan
Surobhi Lahiri
Rasika Venkataraman
Summary: Vitas Pharma, a company focused on the discovery and development of novel antibacterials and diagnostics, has prototyped a rapid molecular test that detects bacteria in patient samples with high specificity and sensitivity. This low cost, 45 minute assay is easy to perform and amplifies bacterial sequences using a technique called loop mediated isothermal amplification. The assay has been validated against clinical isolates and direct clinical samples such as tracheal aspirates, urine and blood. 

Over the next year, the assay will be optimised for run time, range and specificity of bacterial species detected. It is envisioned that the kit will ultimately consist of three tests per sample and will flag the presence of bacteria in 30 minutes. Unlike other currently available tests, this assay combines speed and accuracy with low cost.

The Vitas team is led by Dr Radha Rangarajan. Radha received academic training at Stanford and Rockefeller Universities and the Harvard School of Public Health. Her team includes Dr Surobhi Lahiri and Rasika Venkataraman, both molecular biologists and microbiologists with extensive experience in characterizing drug resistance.

Team name: 123 USW

From Cardiff - Wales
Idea: LAMP DNA amplification for a diagnostic test of bacterial infections
Team members:
Jeroen Nieuwland
Emma Hayhurst
Summary: Our idea is to use loop mediated isothermal amplification of DNA (LAMP) to selectively detect the presence of specific bacterial species, or resistance genes, in a patient sample. This technology has the advantage of being quick (less than 20 minutes), cheap (no expensive equipment, reagents or storage conditions required, and reaction costs of approximately 20p) and simple (a binary answer for the presence or absence of template DNA), which gives it global potential as an affordable point-of-care diagnostic tool.

As a team we have both molecular and microbiology experience, specifically with DNA amplification technology (Jeroen) and antibiotic resistance in bacteria (Emma). We have collaborated with USW engineers to build a prototype device, and we plan on using our Discovery Award to develop our assay further, concentrating firstly on vancomycin resistance in Enterococcus, and UTIs and E. coli. Our long term vision would be the not-for-profit production of the low-cost desktop LAMP device, and several test strips with varying levels of specificity depending on the nature of the infection, and what is required.

Team name: AMR Bradford

From Bradford - England
Idea: Polymers for Disclosing Bacteria
Team members:
Prof Stephen Rimmer
Dr Thomas Swift
Dr Richard Hoskins
David Pownall
Heather Reeve
Summary: Professor Stephen Rimmer is the Head of the School of Biology and Chemistry at the University of Bradford. His team, the ’Polymer and Biomaterials Laboratory’, have spent several years studying the interactions between synthetic polymer materials and biological systems. His current team, with Dr Thomas Swift (Lecturer in Polymer Characterisation) and Dr Richard Hoskins (Research Assistant) are working on numerous Research Council, industry and charity funded grants; testing biological sensors and medical devices. Currently their devices are undergoing testing in advance of international clinical trials.

This team have developed a bacteria binding sensor that they hope could be used to give clinicians warning about bacterial infections. Positive identification of infections could be used to prevent further spread of diseases, and earlier accurate clinical diagnosis could help prevent doctors administering unnecessary antibiotics. This is a vital step in slowing the spread of drug-resistant diseases which are fuelled by over prescription of medication and uncertainty of the specific type of pathogen.

Team name: GFC Diagnostics

From Chipping Warden - England
Idea: Development of rapid, easy to use tests for detection of antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria suitable for point of care use
Team members:
Bruce Savage
Dr Graham Cope
Dr Graham Mock
Alex Savage
Summary: A technology developed at the University of Birmingham by Dr. Graham Cope is being utilized to exploit an invention by Dr. Graham Mock, assisted by Alex Savage. The test can detect genes inside antibiotic resistant bacteria, including the ‘superbug’ MRSA. Usual tests take three days. Our test, called MicroScreen, takes about thirty minutes and does not need expensive equipment or highly trained staff. Work will continue to detect the so called ‘nightmare bug’ CPE which is resistant to nearly all known antibiotics and is often fatal and spreading fast across the world. The technology can also be used to detect other bacteria including deadly strains of drug resistant TB. Bruce Savage, CEO of GFC Diagnostics, who is leading the team, says: “Drug resistant infections are already on the rise with up to 50,000 lives lost each year to antibiotic resistant infections in Europe and the US alone. This rapid test will give a quick diagnosis and prevent the unnecessary use of broad spectrum antibiotics. It will reduce healthcare costs by helping to stop the spread of deadly infections throughout a hospital." 

Team name: ICENI Diagnostics

From Norwich - England
Idea: Sugar devices to detect and discriminate microbial and viral pathogens
Team members:
Rob Field
David Russell
Brydie Moore
Jordan Hindes
Stephan Goetz
Simone Dedola
Simona Chessa
Irina Ivanova
Summary: Norwich-based Iceni Diagnostics, a spin-out from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia, has developed novel diagnostic strategies based on carbohydrate-functionalised nanoparticles. Their library of bespoke glyconanoparticles, each presenting a different sugar, can specifically recognise different targets: they can be deployed in sensitive assays to detect and discriminate bacterial and viral pathogens and protein toxins. The approach can be used to support the informed, targeted and quicker prescription of antibiotics vs anti-virals and it has the potential for patient stratification: those with bacterial infections needing antibiotics vs those with a viral infection not needing antibiotics. These nanoparticle-based assays, which are fast, cheap, easy to use and interpret and require minimal training, lend themselves to point-of-care use. They fit well into current standard hospital workflows and other settings, including applications for agriculture and aquaculture.

The multi-disciplinary Iceni Diagnostics team comprises analytical chemists, carbohydrate biochemists and microbiologists. With proof of concept in hand, the company are moving forward with the evaluation of clinical samples and widening the repertoire of pathogens that can be detected with their nanoparticle approach.

Team name: ORBITAL Diagnostics

From St Andrews – Scotland
Idea: SLIC susceptibilities at the point of care
Team members:
Stephen Gillespie
Robert Hammond
Giles Hamilton
Kerry Falconer
Catherine  Cooper
Ewan Chirnside
Summary: Shortening the time from specimen to result in antibiotic prescribing is the main goal of the Orbital Diagnostics team. Current methods are too slow resulting in “blind” antibiotic prescribing in many cases. Our device combines a laser, an integrating sphere and a light collector linked by innovative electronics to make the Scattered Light Integrated Collector (SLIC) device. It performs susceptibility testing in 20 minutes instead of 20 hours, shortening the time to comprehensive diagnosis. The Orbital Diagnostics team has been supported by Scottish Enterprise to take this product to market. 

The Discovery Award will help us to develop SLIC into a point of care device. The new device will both detect infection and also determine the right treatment for the pathogen. The exquisite sensitivity of SLIC means that this could be achieved in as little as two hours.

The Orbital Diagnostics team includes Robert Hammond, post-doctoral research-assistant and Stephen Gillespie, Professor of Medicine, at the University of St Andrews, supported by Ewan Chirnside, the University Knowledge Transfer Director, and Giles Hamilton, Commercial Champion.

Team name: PhAST

From Boston - United States of America
Idea: Phenotypic diagnostic method for fast pathogen identification and antibiotic susceptibility testing
Team members:
Kwangmin Son
Roman Stocker
Summary: Our team ‘PhAST’ stands for ‘the fastest Phenotypic Antibiotic Susceptibility Test’. We are a team of two engineers and together have 18 years of research experience in microbiology. Our team has a strong expertise in characterizing phenotypic traits of microbes by combining real-time imaging and microfluidic technology. Now, we aim to apply our expertise to develop a disruptive point-of-care diagnostic method for fast and accurate (i) identification and (ii) antibiotic susceptibility testing of clinically relevant pathogens.

Our team has the ability to dynamically image microbes, at the scale of microbes. We are capable of working with a wide range of species, in a wide range of body fluids by sequentially capturing and quantifying how microbes respond to changes in their surrounding chemical environment. Based on this core expertise, we will initially focus on identifying and testing antibiotic susceptibility of the leading causative agents of urinary tract infections. A typical test will compare direct patient urine samples, with and without antibiotics, for pathogen identification and determination of their susceptibility to antibiotics based on changes in phenotypic biomarkers.

Team name: Nanopore Diagnostics

From St Louis - United States of America
Idea: The iNDxer test for rapid microbial detection
Team members:
Dr. Tom Cohen
Dr. Somes Das
Summary: Nanopore Diagnostics is developing a rapid, multiplexed, and portable platform for diagnosing microbial infections. Their product offering, called the iNDxer, will allow physicians to screen for up to 30 different pathogens and markers of antibiotic resistance in under 30 minutes. The iNDxer will be run on a small and portable device that is capable of functioning outside the laboratory. It will be a fully contained assay: patient sample in, result out. The goal is for tests to be able to be run in any healthcare situation, and deliver actionable results during initial patient examinations. The platform will use a consumable cartridge specific to a particular clinical microbiology application (e.g., urinary infections, respiratory infections, etc).

The underlying technology behind the iNDxer is a nanopore sensor that directly counts microbial nucleic acids. Just as a change-sorter can quickly count all the nickels in a change jar, the iNDxer can quickly scan for pathogen-specific nucleic acids in a clinical sample. The biomedical scientists at Nanopore Diagnostics have teamed up with the lab of Dr. Liqun Gu, inventor of the nanopore counting technology, to bring this promising technology to market.

Stay tuned for a short video of the night!

For more information about each team, please contact longitude.prize [at] nesta.org.uk.

*Merck & Co. refers to Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey, U.S.A.