Figure 1 ReCIVA breath sampler, which is used in the lung cancer detection project (Image credit: Owlstone Medical)
Owlstone Medical has raised £4.9 million ($7 million) to fund the ongoing clinical trials of its diagnostic breathalyzer for lung and colon cancers.
While the funding will go toward testing the device in cancer indications, Owlstone is developing the breathalyzer for clinical diagnostic use in inflammatory and infectious diseases as well. Medtekwiz Advisory led the financing round.
Owlstone Medical spun out of Owlstone Inc. in 2016 to develop a disease breathalyzer based on its proprietary Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS). The technology uses high-speed gas phase ion separation to detect disease-specific volatile organic compound metabolites in the breath.
“The breathalyzer we are developing provides clinicians with a highly sensitive, non-invasive diagnostic, which will enable early detection and improve patient outcomes” said Billy Boyle, Owlstone Medical CEO and co-founder, in the statement. “We are also working with pharma partners to develop non-invasive companion diagnostics to better match patients to treatment for emerging personalised therapies.”
Owlstone previously picked up £1 million ($1.3 million) from NHS England to develop the breathalyzer for lung cancer detection. At the time, in December 2014, 12 lung cancer markers were detectable using the FAIMS tech. In February this year, the company won an NHS contract to develop its breathalyzer tech to stratify asthma patients to match them to the right treatment the first time. It is an effort to reduce the number of emergency hospital admissions and deaths due to asthma patients being prescribed the wrong medication.
Facts about FAIMS technology:
Clinical samples such as breath and urine produce complex mixtures of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Using a headspace sampling technique or thermal desorption from a sorbent tube, VOCs from the sample are introduced into the system with a carrier air flow, where they undergo a three-stage process to detect the presence of disease biomarkers. Firstly, the VOCs are ionized, meaning that the gaseous molecules become charged ions, allowing their path to be altered by electric fields. The second stage of the process takes advantage of this by applying an alternating voltage (Figure 1, upper panel) across the channels of the FAIMS chip that the ions are travelling through. This creates an alternating electric field that separates the ions depending on their mobility, which is different for each type of molecule (Figure 1, lower panel). Finally, to detect the presence of a specific disease biomarker, a ‘compensation voltage’ is applied that steers the molecules of interest to the detector, where they are counted.
Figure 2 Upper panel: Alternating voltages separate ions, lower panel: Example ion trajectories (Image credit: Owlstone Medical)