A DIAGNOSTICS company plans to open a factory in the region to make health screen kits that allow people to test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) after the business won more than £111,000 of investment.
OJ-Bio Ltd in Newcastle has been awarded £111,150 by the Technology Strategy Board to develop handheld wireless diagnostic units and biochips for the on-the-spot detection of STDs like chlamydia.
The new funding will help the firm, based at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, to work towards a market-ready prototype of the devices, which it believes will ease the burden placed on the NHS when it comes to the detection of the diseases.
The company was formed last year as a joint venture between Orla Protein Technologies, also based at the Centre for Life, and Japanese electronics firm Japan Radio, and is looking to develop a range of devices which can diagnose diseases by taking a sample of a bodily fluid via a special chip.
The product, which will work much like modern pregnancy tests, will also allow users to send their result to their local GP and receive prescriptions, which is designed to help spare any embarrassment and speed up the process of diagnosis.
The company is set to begin talks with several pharmaceutical companies over the coming months as it perfects the product, and aims to have it in shops by next year.
The firm has also said it will be looking to move to larger headquarters once the product goes to market and that it plans to set up its own manufacturing plant in the region, which would significantly increase its five-strong workforce.
Although OJ-Bio is still in the developmental stage, it said it was chasing a multi-billion-pound market and that it expected its turnover to be significant once it agrees on licences with third-party retailers.
Dale Athey, managing director of OJ-Bio Ltd, said: “There is a clear need for improved methods for easy, rapid, cost-effective detection and identification of infectious diseases.
“The market is currently dominated by lateral flow assays, and assays based upon nucleic acid detection.
“These are limited in their sensitivity, speed, robustness, availability in convenient format and ability to connect to wireless networks, which has come from our relationship with Japan Radio. By giving people an alternative to visiting their local clinic, you are persuading them to get themselves checked, which not only helps to reduce the spread of infection but also relieves pressure from the health service.”
The investment follows a £100,000 investment this year from One North East. This has been spent developing the basic design of the product, on which OJ-Bio plans to base kits designed to discover other diseases such as flu.
Meanwhile, Orla Protein has also launched a new range of protein- coated glass surfaces for use in science labs after forming a partnership with Japanese company Nippon Electric Glass.
Orla Protein, which was spun out of Newcastle University, now expects to double its £250,000 turnover by next year as well as increase its lab staff from five to 10.
Mr Athey said: “We are working on a range of new products at the moment, which could end up creating other businesses in the long run and other partnership opportunities.”