Birmingham spinout to develop 20-minute test following surge in sexually transmitted infections

University of Birmingham spinout Linear Diagnostics has received funding to finesse a point-of-care test for rapid diagnosis of gonorrhoea and chlamydia in men who have sex with men (MSM), and women who have sex with women (WSW).

The funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) will cover essential work to optimise and validate Linear’s platform technology (LDx-CTNG), so it can diagnose infection from rectal and pharyngeal (throat) swabs.

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are both major public health concerns. While chlamydia remains the most commonly detected sexually transmitted infection, the UK Health Security Agency recently warned of a surge in gonorrhoea cases. The latest figures show the number of cases increase 50% from 2021 to 2022, and while gonorrhoea is increasing in people of all ages, the rise is highest among young people aged 15 to 24 years.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has noted the rapid increase in multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea, with all confirmed treatment failures except one being pharyngeal infections affecting the throat.

The most commonly used tests identify DNA from swabs or urine samples, and require laboratory processing, meaning it can be days or even weeks between testing and result.  However extracting DNA from rectal or pharyngeal swabs is more challenging.

Linear Diagnostics will now work with product development consultancy Kinneir Dufort, which has extensive experience in medical diagnostics, to address these technical difficulties.

Brendan Farrell, chairman of Linear Diagnostics, said: “For STIs, the rapidity of the testing procedure is key, as patients prefer to get test results quickly and start treatment immediately. We are aiming to produce a testing platform that will meet the WHO stipulations of being easy to use with minimal training, so people can present for testing and collect their treatment in a single visit.”

Linear Diagnostics’ platform technology was invented by Professor Tim Dafforn from the University’s School of Biosciences and uses linear dichroism, where a beam of polarised light detects multiple targets from a single sample. A proof of concept study has already shown this technology can provide a fast, accurate diagnostic test. Further proprietary technologies include a new DNA amplification technique. The company is now seeking development partners.

David Coleman, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise, said: “Linear Diagnostics is tackling an important application. STIs have a direct impact on sexual and reproductive health, and although chlamydia and gonorrhoea are curable, they have to be diagnosed first. Even in countries where testing is available, these are expensive lab-based tests which take a number of days to report on. A rapid and easy to use diagnostic test could play a significant part in reducing the knock-on consequences of these STIs globally.”

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