Ingenia online reports on MacRobert Award 2018

Published on: 5 Oct 2018, under Breath Biopsy

Ingenia online reports on MacRobert Award 2018 finalists including the winner Owlstone Medical®.

You can read the article below:

MacRobert Award 2018

Supported by the Worshipful Company of Engineers

The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is the premier prize for innovation in UK engineering. It is awarded annually for an outstanding example of innovation that has achieved commercial success and is of benefit to society. It seeks to demonstrate the importance of engineering and the contribution of engineers and scientists to national prosperity and international prestige.

The award was founded by the MacRobert Trust and first presented in 1969. Every submission is reviewed by a panel of judges drawn from the Academy’s Fellowship and across engineering. The award honours the winning company with a gold medal and the team members with a prize of £50,000. Here, Ingenia showcases the three finalists for this year’s award in alphabetical order. The winner will be announced at the Academy Awards Dinner on 27 June 2018.

A quick and easy way to diagnose diease

Diagnosing diseases such as cancer usually involves a series of invasive tests and procedures. University of Cambridge spin-out Owlstone Medical has developed a non-invasive procedure that could quickly and painlessly identify a range of diseases through a simple breathalyser test.

The concept of using breath to diagnose disease is not a new one: Hippocrates (460 to 370 BC) first linked breath odour to underlying diseases and the analysis of volatile breath metabolites has been a research topic since the 1970s. Further research has investigated the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as biomarkers for a range of diseases, but there has been little agreement in identifying those linked to specific diseases, and breath-testing studies were inconsistent and not routinely used in clinical settings.



The ReCIVA® Breath Sampler monitors patient breathing and automatically selects a fraction of expired breath to be captured. Breath is directed into four collection tubes, which are packed with sorbents that are optimised to collect volatile organic compounds in breath,

Owlstone Medical, founded by Billy Boyle and David Ruiz-Alonso, decided to focus on solving the problems around breath testing. The team discovered that, as well as small and inconsistent studies, the most significant issue was a lack of a standardised technology for collecting high-quality breath samples and analysing them reproducibly. In response to this, it has created the first technology capable of capturing and analysing breath samples in a robust and reproducible way, so that it can be used in large-scale clinical trials.

The ReCIVA Breath Sampler consists of: a handheld unit that attaches to a computer or tablet for monitoring and power; a disposable mask with a built-in filter to avoid cross-contamination; and a Breath Biopsy cartridge for collecting and pre-concentrating VOCs from breath. ReCIVA uses a portable air supply that minimises unwanted VOCs by ‘scrubbing’ ambient air. The Breath Biopsy platform can then analyse VOCs from precisely collected breath samples.

The platform includes a patented chemical sensor on a silicon chip, based on a technique called field asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS). Human breath contains thousands of chemicals, some of which are telltale markers of disease that the microchip chemical sensor can detect. The diagnostic ability of FAIMS has been demonstrated using a variety of sample types across a range of infectious and inflammatory diseases, as well as different types of cancer.

Benefits to society

Breath testing for diseases could aid earlier diagnosis, leading to improved patient outcomes and reduced treatment costs.

Owlstone Medical has initiated the world’s largest breath-based clinical trials using the Breath Biopsy platform, including the early detection of lung and colorectal cancer, and a collaboration with Cancer Research UK on early detection of multiple types of cancer. Early detection of cancer is critical to survival rates – for example, if detected early, over 93% of colon cancer patients survive, compared to late detections where less than 5% of patients survive five years. Currently, only 9% of patients with colon cancer are detected at the curable early stage, so increasing the rates of early diagnoses of cancer is a bigger opportunity than developing new drugs.

Non-invasive tests with reliable results would also help to encourage more patients to take part in screening programmes, which have low participation because the techniques used are often unpleasant.

Breath Biopsy can also help to enable precision medicine, which aims to identify the correct treatment for each patient based on condition-specific biomarkers. This could potentially save some of the $400 billion a year that is wasted on ineffective drugs.

Commercial success

In early 2017, Owlstone Medical launched its Breath Biopsy services, which are already attracting high-profile pharmaceutical clients. It has raised $38.55 million to support its 130-person team and develop its healthcare technology and is a partner in several clinical trials. The company is currently working with the NHS in the LuCID breath biomarker trial for early detection of lung cancer with up to 4,000 patients. More than 100 clinics and hospitals across the world use the Breath Biopsy platform.

The company has recently launched a new range of Breath Biopsy Kits and is hoping to announce new partnerships with biopharma by the end of the year.

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If you want to learn more about how Owlstone Medical’s Breath Sampling and Analysis technology and Services are being utilized in early detection and precision medicine, why not download our free ebook: Breath Biopsy: The Complete Guide?

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