Owlstone secures $6.5M for breath-based diagnostics for infectious disease

breath diagnostics for the developing world

Owlstone Medical has secured a $5 million equity investment and initial $1.5 million grant funding, committed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for development of breath-based diagnostic solutions to improve outcomes in the developing world.

The funding represents the first time the Gates Foundation has taken an equity position in a breath diagnostics company, and is comprised of a $5 million equity investment to advance Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy platform, with $1.5 million in grant funding to develop breath-based diagnostics and identify breath biomarkers for tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, exploring a path by which breath-based testing could be deployed for rapid screening and earlier diagnosis.

Owlstone Medical is a global leader in Breath Biopsy for application in early disease detection and precision medicine. It is interested in developing new, cost-effective detection technologies for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could serve as markers of diseases that disproportionately affect the developing world.

VOCs originate from all parts of the body as the end product of metabolic processes, making Breath Biopsy applicable to a wide range of diseases, including lung cancer, liver disease, and digestive disease. Breath also contains microscopic aerosol particles from the lungs and airways, which can contain a wide range of biomarkers, including for infectious disease.

Owlstone’s co-founder and CEO, Billy Boyle, commenting on the investment, said: “The funds will accelerate both the discovery and validation of VOC biomarkers, and the development of a fieldable, low cost, simple to use device.”

The $5 million equity investment will support advancements of the Breath Biopsy platform, including expansion of the Breath Biopsy VOC Atlas database, and the development of a remote-use, real-time breath analyser.

The $1.5 million in grant funding to support the identification of breath biomarkers will be used across two projects. In TB, in partnership with the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Owlstone aims to differentiate TB subjects from healthy controls and develop breath diagnostic approaches based on exploiting the metabolic features of TB, using in vitro approaches.

Meanwhile, in HIV, working with investigators in the UK from Imperial College, London, and Oxford University, Owlstone will analyse VOCs from blood samples from subjects with HIV and try to identify a panel of on-breath candidate VOC biomarkers that correlate with HIV viral load.

Activities complementary to this project are underway with the US Department of Defense (the ‘EXHALE’ project), in which Owlstone is developing a handheld device capable of non-invasive detection of pre-symptomatic respiratory infectious disease, providing further support for Owlstone’s ability to advance the foundation’s mission.

Owlstone also operates in digestive health, under the OMED Health brand, developing clinical tests for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and carbohydrate malabsorption, available in the UK. It is currently developing a handheld device and app for longitudinal monitoring of digestive health.

Last month, pharmaphorum spoke with Debra Weiss, COO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (Gates MRI), discussing the non-profit organisation’s work in developing novel biomedical interventions and lessening the burden of disease in LMICs. Tuberculosis is a central focus of Gates MRI.