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Headshots left to right of Danuta Jeziorska - CEO of Nucleome,  Alex Leech - CEO of Alchemab and Atherton Mutombwera - CEO of Hutano Diagnostics with BioEscalator logo underneath.

Three companies at Oxford’s BioEscalator are developing new detection methods and have discovered potential therapeutics in the fight against COVID-19. Even before the lockdown began, Nucleome Therapeutics, Alchemab Therapeutics and Hutano Diagnostics all quickly redirected their scientific expertise and business plans. These rapid innovations were achieved through collaborations with nearby experts, highlighting the importance of knowledge sharing in solving urgent healthcare problems.

With experience in contagious diseases such as Ebola, Hutano Diagnostics quickly realised that their Lateral Flow Device (LFD) platform could be used to develop a digital COVID-19 test. The device – which also tracks location - is being developed with partners in industry and academia, including Oxford University’s Dunn School and the University of Ghana. The highly sensitive, hand-held device will use saliva to generate a diagnosis in 10 minutes. Its geotagging will enable researchers to track disease spread in real time.

Nucleome Therapeutics, together with collaborators from Oxford University’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, have put their expertise into action to develop a sample pooling approach for SARS-CoV-2 detection. The technique is based on Next Generation Sequencing, a massively scalable alternative to the current standard used in the NHS. Their method has the potential to analyse thousands of samples simultaneously at low cost per sample and high sensitivity.  

Dr Danuta Jeziorska, CEO of Nucleome Therapeutics, commented: “The BioEscalator’s tremendous efforts during the crisis has allowed us to undertake this essential work in a safe environment throughout the lockdown. We were able to access the equipment we needed at Oxford and work with collaborators to join expertise and accelerate the project”.

Alchemab Therapeutics, one of the BioEscalator’s newest start-ups, have been working to understand patients’ immune responses to SARS-CoV-2. They rapidly accessed patient samples through their clinical collaborators and identified potential therapeutic and prophylactic antibodies within days using their discovery platform. These discoveries have been shared with the wider research community and more than 100 antibodies identified have been selected for further assessment as potential therapeutics.

“Thanks to the BioEscalator team’s dedication, we have been able to continue to process many COVID-19 patient samples under appropriate conditions and contribute significantly to the discovery and development of therapeutics. Their support has been vital and transformative,” commented Alex Leech, Alchemab CEO.

Oxford’s BioEscalator - a hub for high growth biotech in the heart of Oxford’s medical research campus - is co-located with academics and clinicians on the Old Road Campus, close to the Jenner Institute and John Radcliffe hospital. Providing innovative start-ups with easy access to collaborators, patients and specialist equipment has proved essential during the recent pandemic.

The BioEscalator team supported this vital work by ensuring that the building and labs remained safe and operational throughout the lockdown. Dr Claire Shingler, Business Manager at the BioEscalator, commented: “This took a lot of strategic planning and flexibility from staff. Quick implementation of new working practices was only possible because of the strength of community at the BioEscalator, everyone has pulled together.”

The BioEscalator companies’ experience has highlighted the importance of information sharing, collaboration & innovation. With links and collaborations already in place, the start-ups have been able to move swiftly and have already made important contributions to this urgent global science effort.