Billy Boyle tells of delight as Owlstone Medical is shortlisted for MacRobert Award
Cambridge Science Park company's breathalyser to detect disease is undergoing clinical trials
Owlstone Medical’s co-founder Billy Boyle has told the Cambridge Independent he is “delighted” the company is in the running for the UK’s most prestigious engineering award.
The Cambridge Science Park company, which is developing non-invasive breath tests for cancer and other diseases, is one of three finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award.
It is flying the flag for Cambridge against Oxford Space Systems and fellow Oxford company Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy for the £50,000 prize, which will be revealed on June 27.
Billy, Owlstone’s CEO, who was driven to establish the company following the death of his wife from cancer, said: “Owlstone was set up by me and two colleagues as a spin-out from the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge. We are therefore particularly delighted to have been selected as finalists for the prestigious MacRobert Award and to be recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering for our engineering innovation, commercial success, and tangible social benefit. To win would make us extremely proud and would be recognition for the whole team of their incredibly hard work.”
Owlstone’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler is the first device capable of capturing breath samples for analysis of chemical biomarkers in human breath for a variety of diseases.
The company aims to save 100,000 lives and $1.5billion in healthcare costs and points out that early detection has the greatest potential to improve patient survival rates.
Only nine per cent of patients with colon cancer are diagnosed at stage I, when five-year survival rates are around 90 per cent, compared with fewer than 10 per cent for those diagnosed if the cancer has metastasised (stage IV).
The platform could also help identify the specific therapy a patient is most likely to respond to, improving patient outcomes and reducing healthcare costs.
Billy told the Cambidge Independent: “We have initiated and are running the largest breath-based clinical trials ever undertaken, included the NHS-funded LuCID trial for early detection of lung cancer and Cancer Research UK-backed PAN cancer trial targeting a number of different tumour types.
“As typical of other clinical studies, we expect the trials to take a few years to complete, and progress is dependent on the rate at which we can recruit patients meeting the specific criteria we need for each trial.
“The LuCID Lung Cancer Trial is being led by Dr Robert Rintoul at Papworth Hospital and is the most advanced of these trials. It is also the largest, recruiting up to 4,000 patients across 26 clinical sites in multiple countries. Recruitment is going well with over 1,700 participants to date.
“Our technology is already used in over 100 clinical sites which include pharma companies, clinical research departments within hospitals, university/academic research sites, and commercial organisations.
“GSK recently contracted us to integrate the Breath Biopsy platform into the clinical development programme of one of the novel drug candidates in their respiratory disease pipeline; AstraZeneca is using our Breath Biopsy services to study disease drivers in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
MacRobert Award judge Professor Sir Saeed Zahedi said: “Owlstone Medical’s innovation not only allows academics, clinicians and pharmaceutical companies to explore breath-based diagnostics for their own clinical applications, but also shows promise in bringing a new simple, cost-effective diagnostic tool for key diseases to the market.
“With $400 billion a year wasted on ineffective drugs, there is a global move towards precision medicine. This technology also has the potential to improve patient outcomes through early detection and reduce healthcare costs through easy precision sampling of breath and analysis in local labs.”
In addition to Billy, the nominated Owlstone team members are co-founder and COO David Ruiz-Alonso, chief scientific officer Max Allsworth, VP of engineering Alastair Taylor and Matthew Hart, VP of research and development.
Last year’s MacRobert Award was won by Raspberry Pi, the Cambridge company that created the cheap, credit card-sized computers.
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More by this authorPaul Brackley