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Owlstone Medical secures $6.5M to support diagnostics development

Owlstone Medical announced it has secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The funding is comprised of a $5 million equity investment to advance Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy platform and $1.5 million in grant funding to develop breath-based diagnostics and identify breath biomarkers for tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.

Owlstone, with support from the foundation, 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. With the new funding, Owlstone seeks to understand whether this approach is suitable for TB and HIV detection and to explore a path by which breath-based testing could be deployed for rapid screening and earlier diagnosis.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “Early diagnosis is a critical determinant of health outcomes. By enabling swift and non-invasive detection of disease, breath analysis has the potential to save lives and dramatically reduce the burden of illness in resource-constrained settings. This investment by the Gates Foundation is testament to how Owlstone is uniquely positioned to transform infectious disease diagnosis through our Breath Biopsy platform. 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 Atlas1 database and for development of a remote-use real-time breath analyzer. This component of the funding will be the first time that the foundation has taken an equity position in a breath diagnostics company.

The $1.5 million in grant funding to support the identification of breath biomarkers will be used across two projects:

  • TB: In partnership with the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Owlstone aims to identify a panel of on-breath candidate VOC biomarkers that differentiate TB subjects from healthy controls and to develop breath diagnostic approaches based on exploiting the metabolic features of TB using in vitro approaches.
  • HIV: Working with investigators from Imperial College, UK, and Oxford University, UK, Owlstone will analyze VOCs from blood samples from subjects with HIV and will work to identify a panel of on-breath candidate VOC biomarkers that correlate with HIV viral load.

In both areas, the data collected will also be used to further populate Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy VOC Atlas.

Activities complementary to this project are underway with the US Department of Defense2 (the ‘EXHALE’ project) where 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.
MB Bureau

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