BioHub wins out for spin-out

Linear Diagnostics Ltd (LDL) is a fast-growing spin-out from the University of Birmingham (UoB), specialising in rapid diagnostic platform technology, as co-founder Dr Matt Hicks explains.

My previous role was in academic research and teaching, at the University of Warwick, and LDL’s other co-founder is Tim Dafforn, a professor at the UoB and now also the government’s chief scientific advisor at the Department of Business Innovation & Skills.

“Our research led us to realise that we could take long, thin molecules along a narrow tube (like sticks in a stream), could detect how they were aligned, through a special type of polarised light, and then use them to detect different types of bacteria, so potentially, a very easy-to-use diagnostic device.

“There wasn’t a Eureka moment, it was a combination of a lot of smaller moments. Much of the work was about building technology to enable the theory to be proven.

“Then, when we knew the theory was valid, we knew we needed to make a machine that was smaller, easier to operate and about 100 times lighter than our original, because the device had to be portable and hand-held.

“We had set up LDL in early 2011, and fitted the work in around our day jobs, but when we realised it was a viable commercial proposition, we knew one of us would have to devote a lot more time to it.

“Tim was at a crucial moment in his academic career, but I was at a point where I could take a year’s break. From then, it’s been about making steady progress, evolving the technology, winning enough grants to fund ourselves, and then finding space where we could grow the business.

“We realised that our technology platform had multiple potential uses; including medical, veterinary, defence and security, food safety and agriculture, but we also knew we had to be careful not to over-stretch our resources.

“Urinary tract infections are a very common complaint, so we chose that as our initial focus, because our technology offered potentially huge benefits. At the moment, test samples for these infections have to be sent away to centralised laboratories for full testing, which is expensive and time-consuming.

“Now though, if our handheld device was used, in just two minutes there’d be more information available than you could get from a dipstick test, which would help reduce the issuing of antibiotics, a major issue for the NHS, and help target the right drugs to the right people - personalised medicine.

“We’ve been very successful right from the start, at winning financial support, and soon we’ll be looking at raise another £300,000 or so, to take our first product to market, probably in mid-2018.

“Later, we’ll need to raise another £2m so we can scale up LDL’s operations, in the UK and also in the US, but for now, we’re settled in nicely at the BioHub, the workforce is up to ten, and as we grow, we can lease more lab benches on the ground-floor and take more business space on the second-floor.

“At some point, we’ll obviously outgrow the BioHub, but it’s been great for us, and I’m sure it’ll be as attractive for future spin-outs when they need to find commercial research and test space.”