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Growing the diagnostics arm of the health tech sector

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West Midlands Health Tech Cluster

Managing a cluster of health technologies businesses across the West Midlands involves the 4 Ds of Data, Devices, Diagnostics and Digital.

In the area of diagnostics, the cluster manages an initiative designed to bring on small diagnostics businesses and strengthen their supply chain arrangements. The initiative is called DIAGCOMM, effectively a “mini cluster” within the larger family of health tech businesses.

The purpose of DIAGCOMM is to bring together businesses that are involved in diagnostics to identify common challenges and opportunities and enable timely access to relevant regional assets.

It aims to provide a forum for diagnostics businesses, including their supply chain partners, to share ideas about collaboration and managing risk, leading to a stronger diagnostics presence in the region overall.

The cluster organisation recently co-hosted, with University of Wolverhampton Science Park, a dinner for diagnostics businesses and their stakeholders, including supply chain partners.

These businesses, often small and young, will be beneficiaries if together we can harness the might of the whole cluster to overcome the challenges they face.

This meeting attracted a wide range of diagnostics businesses, some having been operating in the sector for decades.

As a result of the evening’s discussion there was realisation that there is potential and willingness to bring some elements of current supply chains closer to home that will have benefits in term of quality, resilience and economic growth in the region.

However, for this to be achieved better information-sharing is needed about local capabilities, capacity and assets. The cluster should lead in putting in place a mechanism to facilitate introductions proactively.

DIAGCOMM is the ideal vehicle to do this because it is independent and well-connected – for example, colleagues at Rosalind Franklin Laboratory have offered to support this activity.

The next roundtable will focus on manufacturing and will be hosted by The Binding Site and a further event at the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory in Leamington Spa is being planned for the summer.

There are truly inspiring case studies of successes in diagnostics in the West Midlands:

  • Researchers at the University of Warwick, partnering with Iceni Diagnostics Ltd and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust have demonstrated their technology using glycans as alternative detection reagents, compared to traditional antibody-based techniques. The use of polymeric linkers, which allows presentation of the glycan on the nanoparticles (which make the red line), shows the benefit of true cross-disciplinary, cross-sector collaboration. The team demonstrated that prototype devices could identify COVID-19 positive swabs across a range of viral loads. The team also showed that the technology functioned well with the spike proteins from variants of concern, which is a key benefit of using glycan-binding technology.
  • Medicines Discovery Catapult at University of Warwick developed and invested in new lab facilities to give UK drug discovery companies access to solid-state NMR and advanced mass spectrometry and liquid handling technology. The facilities are targeted at developing new complex biological assays and advanced biochemical analysis, utilising the first ‘quad’ solid state NMR probe in the UK. These facilities will enable the industrial and academic communities to innovate together for better medicines. The initial focus is on tackling the increasing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
  • Aston University has teamed up with biotechnology company Biocleave Ltd in a new knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) to develop the company’s capacity to produce membrane-associated proteins on a competitive commercial scale.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy screening programme at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has two data sets of eye scans. The first of these is a set fundus images of which there are around seven million. The other is a set of OCT (optical coherence tomograph) scans of which there are over 440,000. This dataset contains routine clinical ophthalmology data for every patient seen at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Birmingham, Solihull and Black Country Diabetic Retinopathy screening program at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, with longitudinal follow-up for 15 years. University Hospitals Birmingham in the West Midlands has a catchment population of circa 5.9million. The region includes a diverse ethnic, and socio-economic mix, with a higher than UK average of minority ethnic groups. It has a large number of elderly residents but is the youngest population in the UK. There are particularly high rates of diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, and smoking.
  • PIONEER includes de-identified/pseudonymised data from patients who were seen by an acute care provider from 1st January 2000. Each dataset will be bespoke, creating the dataset needed to match the specific project. Each dataset can be finessed or expanded to meet requirements across many conditions, pathways and therapy areas.

Diagnostics businesses look set to form an ever-increasing presence in the health tech ecosystem of the West Midlands.

The cluster values the work that they do and will support them to develop their influence, their innovation and their contribution to the local economy in terms of jobs and wealth creation.

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