17 September 2021 - Article
At a time when across the globe, unprecedented research efforts are being deployed to battle COVID-19, Cambridge finds itself at the forefront, alongside other leading universities and research institutes. It is harnessing the full potential of its uniquely symbiotic relationship that exists amongst Cambridge University’s cutting-edge research labs, the Cambridge bio-cluster of start-ups and SMEs, and world class national research institutes such as the Wellcome Sanger Institute, to spearhead a number of pioneering initiatives in the emergency response to battle COVID-19.
In what can only be described as awe-inspiring, industry, academia, and research institutes from the Cambridge Bio-cluster (the largest in Europe and third largest globally, after Silicon Valley and Boston), have come together in a war-time like effort to innovate at break-neck speed around the numerous challenges posed by COVID-19 on multiple fronts.
Withers is proud to have had the opportunity to play its own part in supporting some of these inspirational efforts, including on a pro-bono basis. The Withers Tech team is presently supporting its longstanding client Mologic, a Bedford based rapid diagnostics company, throughout the development, testing and high volume manufacture of its rapid point-of-care COVID-19 antibody test.
Mologic’s COVID-19 test once ready, will provide users with a result in 10 minutes, without needing any special training, electricity or a laboratory to use. The prototype has now been independently validated by leading laboratories around the world, has a 99% sensitivity and 98% specificity. Mologic’s ambition is for this COVID-19 test is for it to be both affordable and accessible to all, not simply a privileged few. To achieve this, Mologic is constructing a new diagnostic manufacturing facility, which will produce up to 40million tests per year. It will also be a training facility for partners in low-income countries and regions.
Samba Two—‘Game-changer’ COVID-19 test
A new COVID-19 test, called Samba Two that has been described as a ‘game-changer’, is now being used at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. Developed by a spin-out company from Cambridge University called Diagnostics for the Real World (‘DRW’) based at a local science park, Samba Two provides a result in less than 90 minutes, instead of the 24-48 hours tests currently take. Originally developed for HIV testing, it has been now adapted for testing for COVID-19. Samba Two has been rapidly validated by Public Health England, and obtained a CE mark.
Based on a ‘sample in, result out’, the device is portable, fully automated—i.e. automatically prepares, extracts, tests, analyses and records results, and requires minimal training. It is designed to be used ‘at the point of care’ i.e. on site at hospital wards, thereby cutting out bottlenecks and saving precious time otherwise spent preparing and sending samples to central laboratories at other locations, and in some cases other countries, for testing.
COVID-19 Sounds App—Cambridge University AI cough analysis
Data scientists at Cambridge University have rolled out an app to collect sounds (breathing, spoken voice and coughs) from people suffering from COVID-19. This collection of COVID-19 respiratory sounds will help train an AI based algorithm to eventually assist with early detection of COVID-19. Developed in record time with a cross-disciplinary team, the app has been approved by the relevant Ethics Committee at the University.
Astra-Zeneca/GSK Cambridge COVID-19 testing site
A joint collaboration between AstraZeneca, GSK and Cambridge University will see a new COVID-19 testing laboratory being established at Cambridge. Based at the University’s Anne McLaren Laboratory, the site will be used for high throughput screening for COVID-19 testing, with the ability to process 30,000 tests per day from early May. Although diagnostics is not part of the core business of either GSK or AstraZeneca, they will explore the use of alternate chemical re-agents for test kits, in order to overcome the current test supply barriers. They will also be advising the current national test centres on use of robotics and automation in order to expand current testing capacities.
COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium
Comprising the Wellcome Sanger Institute based in Cambridge, the NHS, Public Health Agencies, and various universities, the UK whole genome sequence Alliance’s goal is to analyse the genetic code of COVID-19. Samples taken from COVID-19 patients across the country will be sent to gene centres for rapid genome sequencing. This enables monitoring, at a national scale, of any new strains of the virus that may be emerging, and an improved understanding of how the virus spreads.
As one of the world’s most advanced genomic centres, the Wellcome Sanger Institute will deploy it cutting-edge large scale sequencing platform, working with expert groups across the country, to make vital breakthroughs could help in saving lives.
COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge
The UK Government put out a call for ventilators as part of the effort to battle COVID-19.
The Science Group, based in Cambridge, along with their subsidiary Sagentia, are part of the team working on the Ventilator Challenge. They have developed a prototype for a new Sagentia Ventilator. Trial units have been submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (‘MHRA’) for regulatory approval, and a contract for the supply of 10,000 ventilators is under negotiations with the UK Government.
The Technology Partnership (‘TTP’), a Cambridge based technology and engineering consultancy, in collaboration with Dyson, has designed a completely new model of ventilator called CoVent. The new ventilators will be manufactured from scratch by Dyson.
The Withers team in Cambridge works closely with entrepreneurs, investors, and technology and life sciences companies to support innovation and academic commercialisation. We continue to support the Cambridge market as a hub for innovation and the integral part that Cambridge is playing in the fight against COVID-19.