University of Birmingham Enterprise has won the coveted ‘Commercial Deal of the Year’ award from PraxisAuril for a deal that licensed a unique method for viral testing to Innova Medical Group (IMG), a global player in screening and rapid diagnostic solutions. 

The novel testing method, known as RTF-EXPAR*, was invented at the height of the pandemic by University of Birmingham Professors Tim Dafforn and James Tucker, who set out to devise a new testing method that is just as sensitive – but faster – than PCR tests, which are used in hospital settings. 

The most time-consuming steps of PCR are the conversion of viral RNA to DNA, and the amplification of this DNA to a detectable level.  The researchers devised a new, faster method for this, and combined it with existing techniques to deliver a novel platform technology with a sample to signal time of under 10 minutes, that can be used with standard bench-top equipment – opening the door to ultrarapid, highly sensitive viral testing without having to send a sample to a laboratory. 

The license to IMG followed an exhaustive search to find the right commercial partner, who would be able to develop, commercialise, and ensure global distribution for this game-changing technology, which should transform screening for and diagnosis of viral diseases.  

IMG was the world’s largest COVID-19 test provider during the pandemic, and the company immediately saw the potential applications beyond COVID-19, in both human and animal health.

Charles Huang, CEO of Innova, said: “We recognised RTF-EXPAR as an enabling technology for the next evolution in rapid, high-performance diagnostics. It was a pleasure to work with the University of Birmingham to put together a framework to allow IMG to move forward with the technology.”

PraxisAuril awards recognise the contribution made by Knowledge Exchange practitioners, who bring together academic researchers and commercial companies to ensure that the innovation originating in universities is successfully translated into products and services that provide widespread benefit. 

The award was accepted by Dr Veemal Bhowruth, on behalf of the University of Birmingham Enterprise team, at a ceremony held in Manchester earlier this week.

David Coleman, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise, said: “The Deal of the Year award is a sought-after accolade that recognises the outstanding impact of a particular deal.  I’m enormously proud of the team that managed the intellectual property, fostered the relationship and handled the negotiations with IMG.” 

Charles Huang added: “As the RTF approach can be adapted to test for a range of viruses, we’re seizing the opportunity to make the technology available beyond Covid. We want to make its use accessible both at home and at point-of-care to help mitigate health concerns across the world, and we look forward to developing RTF-EXPAR into an array of solutions that will have a positive impact on the global healthcare market.”

*RTF-EXPAR stands for Reverse Transcription Free – Exponential Amplification Reaction, which describes the novel testing method