Bax Lindhardt

Spin-out expands with quick tests and antigen tests

Tuesday 21 Sep 21
|
by Henrik Olsen

Dengue fever

Dengue fever is the most common mosquito-transmitted viral disease among humans. The infection is very common in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, South America, and Central America. The WHO estimates that there were 390 million cases worldwide in 2013, and more than 20,000 people die of the disease annually.

The infection is spread when a mosquito bites a person who has virus in his or her blood. The mosquito then becomes infected itself and can now spread the dengue fever virus to other people.

Source: Statens serum institut, Netdoktor

The spin-out company BluSense Diagnostics can use Blu-ray for rapid diagnosis of dengue fever and to measure immune response after COVID-19 vaccination.

Dengue fever is a tropical viral disease transmitted from person to person via mosquitoes. The disease is potentially fatal if left untreated, and it is especially dangerous for children. Therefore, it is extremely important to diagnose the disease as soon as possible so that the infected person can be cured and isolated, thus breaking the chain of infection. This is where the Danish company BluSense Diagnostics comes in.

The patented measuring equipment developed by BluSense Diagnostics detects infection with dengue fever in less than 15 minutes. This extremely short testing time is crucial in the areas in which dengue fever is most widespread, explains Filippo Bosco, one of the three founders of the company:

“Most people who arrive at the hospital with dengue fever symptoms live far from the hospital. In connection with a normal test—where it takes several days to get the test result—they often go back home once the test has been taken. Many days may consequently pass in which they may develop serious illness and infect others in their vicinity before the disease is verified. It’s therefore important to get the result while they’re still in the hospital, so they can be isolated—and possibly treated—if there is a serious case of dengue fever.”

Quick and precise test

BluSense Diagnostics is not the first to come up with a test method for ascertaining dengue fever. Nor are they the first company to provide a quick test. But they are the first company to both diagnose the dreaded disease with high accuracy and to do so within a few minutes. BluSense Diagnostics’ IMA (immunomagnetic agglutination) technology can ascertain an acute dengue fever infection in just eight minutes with an accuracy of 91.9 per cent. A more complete analysis showing whether the person has an acute infection, a more serious long-lasting infection, or has previously had dengue fever takes 13 minutes and has the same accuracy. None of the other quick tests can match this. They have an accuracy of between 40 and 79 per cent—that is significantly below BluSense Diagnostics’ IMA method.

Finding their niche

BluSense Diagnostics did not actually focus on dengue fever when the company was set up in 2014. They initially developed methods for testing for a wide range of the typical lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer. The results were extremely promising, but the people behind BluSense Diagnostics had to take one single important thing into account:

“The market was saturated with really big players that produced equipment which actually worked quite well. And even if we could do it three to four per cent better, it wasn’t enough for us to take up the fight against mastodons like Siemens and Roche,” says Filippo Bosco.

So BluSense Diagnostics had to find their own niche. Through a research collaboration with a professor in Australia, they began analysing for an antigen from dengue fever—and it worked beyond all expectations. They therefore took a closer look at the market for diagnosis of dengue fever.

“We discovered that there was a gap in the market. Innovation in tropical diseases is limited because the market is small. So we realized that it was probably a smart move to focus on dengue fever,” explains Filippo Bosco.

“The diagnostic market for dengue fever is around DKK 500 million—which means that it’s too small for the big players—but it’s big enough to provide healthy competition between small and medium-sized enterprises.”

And with a product that looked better than those of the competitors, the way was paved for a change in strategy. BluSense Diagnostics threw itself wholeheartedly into dengue fever testing, and the first test kits were sold to hospitals in Thailand in 2018.

Spin-out from DTU

The idea for the IMA analysis method was created through a collaboration between DTU Health Tech and the Spanish research institution CIC nanoGUNE, where Marco Donolato—one of BluSense Diagnostics’ founders— did a postdoc study. Donolato showed that—with the help of antibody-coated magnetic nanoparticles—it was possible to create long chains of particles which were bound together by antigens from blood plasma. The more antigens, the more chains were formed as signs of infection. In another postdoc study at DTU, Robert Burger—the third of BluSense Diagnostics' founders—developed a microfluid solution that made it possible to mix antigens and antibodies effectively in the samples.

"We moved from proof of concept to prototype via foundation funds obtained through DTU."
Filippo Bosco, co-founder of blusense diagnostics

At the same time, Filippo Bosco conducted a postdoc study at DTU, where he was able to make ultra-precise measurements using blue laser rays—Blu-ray technology. When Filippo Bosco developed a Blu-ray reader device that could measure the quantity of nanoparticle chains in the samples, the foundation for BluSense Diagnostics was laid.

DTU has been absolutely crucial for the three postdoc students’ ability to further develop the method and equipment into an industrial product, explains Filippo Bosco. He especially highlights Anja Boisen—Professor at DTU Health Tech—because she has provided laboratory facilities and most of the funds for the development of the method.

“We moved from proof of concept to prototype via foundation funds obtained through DTU. Going from prototype to product is much more expensive, so here you have to stand on your own two feet and get financing through private investors,” says Filippo Bosco.

DTU holds the patent for the method, but BluSense Diagnostics was granted the exclusive right to use the method when they were spun out as an independent company.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

When talking about viruses, it is impossible not to mention COVID-19. And BluSense Diagnostics has, in fact, tested the method for detecting this virus infection—and with great precision.

With their IMA method, it is possible to detect coronavirus antibodies in a blood sample with more than 90 per cent certainty within just seven minutes. So—on the face of it—it would seem completely obvious to put a quick test on the market. But BluSense Diagnostics has once again had to acknowledge that they are too small. They will not be able to keep up with the demand at all in the same way as the big producers of quick tests. So they have had to find a niche also here.

“We’ve developed the method for analysing the immune response after a vaccination,” explains Filippo Bosco.

BluSense Diagnostics is able to quantify ultraquickly how well the immune system responds in a person who has received one of the COVID-19 vaccines that are now being rolled out worldwide.

“Here we can analyse the effect of each individual dose the person receives—right on the spot. We can also examine how cocktails of different vaccines work,” says Filippo Bosco.

In this way, the company expects to play an important role in the assessment and development of the new vaccines in the coming months and years.

The next steps

BluSense Diagnostics focuses on three markets: Asia, South America and Europe.  In Asia, Thailand is the primary market, while, in South America, the focus is on Colombia, and—in these countries—BluSense Diagnostics will market the dengue fever test. In Europe, BluSense Diagnostics will start with the Italian market, but here the focus is on COVID-19. Once BluSense Diagnostics has gained a foothold in these countries, it will expand to other countries in the three selected areas.

In the longer term, there are plans to expand the range of test methods to cover other tropical virus types such as yellow fever, chikungunya virus, and West Nile fever. And even further out on the horizon, the company can glimpse opportunities in diagnosis of heart problems via biomarkers.

BluSense Diagnostics has 40 employees in Copenhagen and 14 employees in Taipei, Taiwan, and the company expects further growth in the coming years.

Read more: www.blusense-diagnostics.com