Published: 3rd March 2020

University of Birmingham spinout Linear Diagnostics Ltd has raised £2m to develop a rapid test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea which can detect infection from a single sample, allowing diagnosis and treatment in a single patient visit.

Globally, more than 1 million STIs are contracted every day.1 The latest UK figures show a 5% increase in diagnoses between 2017 and 2018, due to a large increase in the number of diagnoses for gonorrhoea (26%; from 44,812 to 56,259) and chlamydia (6%; from 205,365 to 218,095).2

Rapid and appropriate antibiotic treatment is essential for both infections; chlamydia is largely asymptomatic and can cause infertility in women, and in gonorrhoea antimicrobial resistance has emerged to all previously used first line drugs – and the first strain resistant to dual therapy with ceftriaxone plus high-level azithromycin was isolated in England and Australia in 2018.3

Dr Matt Hicks, CTO and Founder of Linear Diagnostics Limited, said: “Point of care diagnosis means that sexual health clinics can deliver diagnosis and treatment in a single visit. It is critical to break the chain of person-to-person transmission, particularly as drug resistant strains are on the rise, and people who present for testing may not return to the clinic to collect test results and treatment.”

Linear Diagnostics was founded by researchers from the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, Professor Tim Dafforn and Dr Matt Hicks. The pair aimed to develop diagnostic devices based on patented technologies that use linear dichroism – which uses polarized light to detect the presence of molecules in solution.

This latest funding round of £2m is to further develop the technique to identify key gene sequences in a sample, and the funders expect that the company’s technology will be able to detect multiple genetic targets from a single sample within a 15 minute timescale.

Midven saw a significant opportunity in Linear Diagnostics’ technology, which is being developed for point of care STI testing.

Roger Wood, Director at Midven, explained: “Linear Diagnostics is at an important and exciting juncture of its product development. It’s targeting a fast growing segment of the diagnostics market with a technology that can deliver a range of tests for multiple targets, and this provides more value as a proposition than single tests for pathogens.”

Under the chairmanship of Brendan Farrell, a diagnostics industry veteran with over 30 years experience in high-growth companies, Linear has grown to seven staff and is now looking for collaborations for the development of single-use cartridges and a portable reader device.

The funding round was led by Birmingham venture capital firm Midven, using equity finance from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), and included investment from the UK Innovation Science and Seed Fund (UKi2S), the University of Birmingham, and Linear Diagnostics’ directors. The full funding package of £2m also includes grant money and convertible loans.

Oliver Sexton, Investment Director at UKi2S, commented: “Linear’s technology rapidly identifies key gene sequences in samples. This is critical in an era when antibiotic resistance is on the rise, as it enables medical staff to choose the appropriate antibiotic at the earliest possible opportunity. As an early investor in the technology, we are looking forward to it’s next stage of development.”

The MEIF project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Full details of the investment package can be viewed here.