MedTech start-up Occuity has received a £343,000 Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) Award to fund the next stage of development of its optical diabetes screening device.

The Reading company is developing the AGE reader,  a medical device that will enable non-invasive screening of diabetes in non-clinical settings such as opticians and pharmacies.  

Biomedical Catalyst is the flagship Innovate UK grant funding competition for supporting UK health & life sciences SMEs. It supports the development of innovative solutions to health and healthcare challenges by providing financial support to accelerate the route to commercialisation. 

With Type 2 diabetes affecting 422 million people globally, the costs associated with diabetes-related complications to global health services are around 10% of all government health spending – unsustainable to the point that the WHO now classifies diabetes as a pandemic. 

Early diagnosis is vital to enable the prevention and management of diabetes and pre-diabetes when it is relatively inexpensive with treatments such as healthier diets and increased physical activity. Whilst the International Diabetes Foundation recommends wide screening of older people, Type 2 diabetes is increasing in younger adults and children, demonstrating a need for broad diabetes screening. 

However current techniques require an inconvenient blood test which can only be performed in a clinical setting. This means many people do not get tested until they present to their GP with full diabetes symptoms and/or are diagnosed as obese. Those who don’t suspect issues may never be tested.  

To meet this need, Occuity has designed an AGE reader based on research that demonstrates the concentration of Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs) within the eye correlates to blood glucose levels and therefore the risk of diabetes. 

The AGE reader will be a handheld, non-contact device that shines a blue light into the eye to illuminate the ocular lens and the returning scattered and fluorescent light from the AGEs will be detected and AGE levels and diabetes risk determined. 

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It claims to be cheaper and faster than competitors and requires no blood draws or patient fasting. It can also be used in a non-clinical environment making it ideal for use in pharmacies, opticians, or domiciliary environments such as care homes. 

Coupled with machine learning techniques, the readings from the device will aim to give a diagnosis of whether the subject is non-diabetic, pre-diabetic or diabetic. 

“The value of a more convenient way to screen for diabetes is clear,” said Dan Daly, CEO and co-founder. “For the individual, early identification can help them take appropriate actions to avoid the worst effects of the disease whilst for health services, alongside the improved patient outcomes and quality of life, there is an added financial incentive.

“This grant will enable us to develop a benchtop device to demonstrate the technical advances and to make a functioning meter to provide a route forward to a commercially viable product.” 

Samana Brannigan, head of health technologies at Innovate UK, said: “Biomedical Catalyst funding will support Occuity in their journey to commercialise and scale-up this cutting-edge technology and deliver further growth for the UK life sciences sector. 

“The development of a portable, handheld, non-invasive device for use in non-clinical settings could contribute to proactive, person centric care in the community and lead to significant global opportunities.”

The project will start on 1st December 2022 and is projected to last 15 months. Advances in Occuity’s technology will also provide a platform for developing further screening devices to look at other biomarkers in the eye such as amyloid plaques, which are known as evidence of the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.

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