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Meningitis 10-Minute Diagnostic Test Receives £1.5m Boost

Medical expertise originating in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital that will produce tests diagnosing meningitis in 10 minutes has received a £1.5m boost.

Funding for HiberGene, which was co-founded by three doctors from Belfast's main hospital, has come from Kernel Capital through a Bank of Ireland fund, and private investors.

Dublin-based HiberGene, which is led by Brendan Farrell, will use the funding to get molecular tests for meningococcal meningitis and Group B Streptococcus, which afflicts perinatal babies and newborns, onto the market.

The tests use technology called loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), which can diagnose in 'near-patient' settings like emergency rooms and delivery wards.

The Bank of Ireland medtech accelerator fund provided £375,000 in funding, with the rest from private investors.

Mr Farrell said: "We are very pleased to have secured our first round of financing and we are now ready to fully commercialise our first two products and to commence development of LAMP-based tests for other infectious diseases. Both the meningitis and Group B Streptococcus products meet a currently unmet clinical need for rapid and accurate testing."

The firm wants to develop further tests for other human infectious diseases in-house

Mr Farrell, a biochemist by training, said the company was formed after a meningitis test was developed by Prof Peter Coyle, Dr Derek Fairley and Dr Joe Kidney, all medics at the Royal.

The firm set up to develop the tests was established in the Republic around 2010.

"Tax benefits were better in the south, particularly research and development tax credits," Mr Farrell said.

But he said he hoped to open a research and development facility in Northern Ireland, and ultimately sell the tests to the NHS.

And while there was competition in the field of meningitis testing, the speed of HiberGene's test set it apart, Mr Farrell said.

"Nobody has a meningitis test that's so rapid. Meningitis can have fatal consequences if you don't diagnose it quickly.

"Rapid diagnosis is particularly important with children, who are unable to describe their symptoms accurately."

Jayne Brady, partner at Kernel Capital, added: "There is a significant market need for accurate, rapid, cost-effective and simple to use near-patient clinical testing for critical care infectious diseases.

"Kernel Capital, through the Bank of Ireland medtech accelerator fund, is delighted to support innovative early stage Irish companies like HiberGene Diagnostics to enable their product launch and market entry."

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