Four research teams working on AMR win ‘Discovery Award Grants’

These research teams whose names were announced recently by the  Longitude Prize and BIRAC have been awarded seed funding to develop rapid point-of-care tests to prevent misuse of antibiotics

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New Delhi: In the latest round of Discovery Award seed funding, four research teams from India have been confirmed as recipients of Longitude Prize Discovery Award grants to further fund their research.

The Discovery Awards are seed fund grants to help teams further develop their research and support their bids to win the global Longitude Prize. This third round of seed funding to the total value of $200,000 draws on a grant provided by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in India (a Government of India not-for-profit enterprise) and was open exclusively to teams based in India.

The £10 million five-year Longitude Prize was launched in 2014, setting the challenge to develop a point-of-care test to detect infections to help ensure that the right antibiotics are used at the right time.

Now in its third year, the Longitude Prize will reward a competitor that can develop a point-of-care diagnostic test to help conserve antibiotics for future generations. The Longitude Prize is run by innovation foundation, Nesta, and supported by Innovate UK as funding partner.

Here follow profiles on the four winning research teams from India. Teams are at varying stages in development of their tests, ranging from proof of concept to the development of prototypes.

CAST, multiple locations in India

The cAST team is developing a new imaging device to perform rapid point-of-care diagnosis of antibiotic resistant bacteria for urinary tract infections. The device will be a sample-in/result-out automated device requiring no trained technician and generating antibiotic susceptibility reports directly on urine samples. Just like a mobile phone video is able to capture information about objects like size and color, the cAST team is developing a similar device to capture small features of a bacterial cell, which can help determine the viability of the cell.

IDI Group, Bangalore, Karnataka

IDI Group is developing a cost effective ultrasensitive magnetic biosensor to rapidly detect and identify bacteria in blood, which would help treat sepsis during its early stages, before it becomes more dangerous. These ultrasensitive magnetic biosensors can detect bacteria selectively from unprocessed blood without culture and amplification reaction. The rapid identification and separation of bacteria from blood would ensure that the correct antibiotic regimen can quickly be selected for a sepsis patient.

NanoDx Healthcare, New Delhi

NanoDx Heathcare’s Septiflo is a low-cost, disposable rapid endotoxin detection kit for use at the patient’s bedside. It provides results in less than 10 minutes and provides an indication of the patient’s Gram-status and the severity of their infection. The detection is based on a colorimetric response that changes with the extent of infection in blood. Its highest impact is anticipated if multiple tests a day are performed on patients for preclinical screening, early diagnosis and management of sepsis, and for monitoring the progress of an infection so that the outcomes may be predicted.

Spotsense, Bangalore, Karnataka

The team at Spotsense is working on creating a rapid, non-invasive and point-of-care test for diagnosing sepsis in newborns, assessing its severity and guiding antimicrobial therapy. The prototype product is similar to a thermometer, which can also be used for testing for other severe infections in very small babies. The device can be utilised by healthcare professionals, such as nurses and midwives, without the need of a pathology lab. The proposed solution tests for levels of biomarkers for sepsis in neonatal saliva and then uses an algorithm to calculate a normalised score for sepsis.

As per Dr Renu Swarup, Senior Adviser, DBT and Managing Director, BIRAC comments, “Drug-resistant bacteria are a serious threat to millions of people in India and around the world. This is why BIRAC is supporting the Longitude Prize Discovery Awards to help further already promising research into the crucial development of a rapid diagnostic test to identify whether antibiotics are needed. Indian start-ups can be part of a global solution.”

Mr Daniel Berman, Longitude Prize lead at Nesta, the innovation foundation, added: “The lack of reliable rapid tests mean that people do not know when and if they need antibiotics. This leads to underuse and unnecessary over-prescription of antibiotics and is one of the major factors in the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Across the globe we need accurate point-of-care diagnostic tools to maximise the chances that antibiotics are only used when medically necessary. The Longitude Prize now has 250 competitors worldwide all competing to find a cheap and effective diagnostic tool that can be used anywhere in the world to help stem the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.”

So far 29 Discovery Awards have been given out in 2016 and 2017 around the world from countries including India, Israel, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK. The Round 1 and Round 2 winners received grants up to £25,000 and have used the funding to support their work including hiring extra research staff, to help fund independent clinical validation and develop technical solutions for the challenges they face in making their diagnostic tests.