Our team’s journey with the Longitude Prize

13 Mar 2018

Written by Bruce Savage, GFC Diagnostics

It all started when a friend in a clinical microbiology laboratory told me about the Longitude Prize, which must have been about 3 years ago.

We are a small medical diagnostics company, called GFC Diagnostics, that has developed a number of simple, easy to use products for point-of-care detection of smoking and a test that detects adherence to anti-TB therapy.

These products use a simple device invented some years ago by one of our founders, Dr Graham Cope. On reading the objective of the Longitude Prize, I had the idea that we could adapt a novel DNA probe-based technology to produce a simple point-of-care test to rapidly detect genes inside antibiotic resistant bacteria, including the ‘superbug’ MRSA.

We duly decided to compete for the prize and registered.

“The Longitude Prize will be awarded to the team that has developed a transformative, 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, easy to use and available to anyone, anywhere in the world. It will identify when antibiotics are needed and if they are, which ones to use” 

After some months we were informed of the Discovery Award seed-funding grants, which we thought could help us fund some key elements of our development programme. We wanted to continue our research and adapt our test to also detect the so called ‘nightmare bugs’ CPE (Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae), which are resistant to nearly all known antibiotics, and are often fatal and spreading fast across the world.

We completed the application form and were delighted to hear that we had been successful!

The presentation of the award was at the Royal Society, an institution held in high regard by all scientists. It was also interesting to hear from the other teams who had won the award. We were impressed by the work being done particularly by teams in India who briefly talked about their projects.

How has being involved in the Longitude Prize helped us?

First of all, being involved in the Longitude Prize has attracted a private investor, who is a keen sailor and aware of the original Longitude Prize, and could identify with the objectives of the new award. He realised the size of the antibiotic resistance crisis and was excited by the thought of a company he had invested in, winning the award.

Secondly, the Longitude Prize team at Nesta have been very proactive at including us in the effort to spread the word about the problem of antibiotic resistance, including inviting us to a workshop on making prize applications stronger for teams.

Last year, I was also invited to a conference in Delhi jointly organised by the Longitude Prize and BIRAC to give a presentation on our project. That meeting gave me a fascinating insight into the issues of antibiotic resistance in India.

One of the most exciting events that we have been able to participate in subsequent to our involvement in the prize was our participation in an exhibition called Superbugs at the Science Museum London. Our test is still on display as part of this! This was a very proud moment for my fellow co-founder Graham Cope and myself. We attended the opening ceremony and met a number of celebrities in the antibiotics world! All of this helped motivate our small team and made us realise that we are contributing a very important development project.

I was also involved in a panel of team members at the Longitude Prize anniversary event Superbugs and the future of diagnostics last November, thus spreading the word of our work and the aims of the prize.

And just last week I gave a short presentation on our diagnostic test at a conference organised by Nesta in Milan called the Challenges of our Era Summit. The talk was an opportunity for delegates to hear from a team that was competing in one of the many challenges prizes that Nesta organises.

Where we are going

Of course, research and development is not a smooth road. We have met a number of the prize objectives, but still have some way to go before meeting all of the criteria. We have had setbacks, but fortunately have found ways around them. This year we hope to get our test evaluated by a clinical laboratory on patient samples.

Participation in the Longitude Prize has increased the profile of our company and has given me the chance to present to audiences in a number of countries, which I may not have otherwise without the help from the Longitude Prize team and Nesta.

Does your team want to get more involved with the Longitude Prize? Contact us for opportunities.