QuantuMDx’s co-founder and chief scientific officer Jonathan O’Halloran has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but his first love was molecular genetics.
Jonathan completed his undergraduate studies at Sussex University before heading to Harvard to study how mutations in DNA sequencing cause disease.
He returned to the UK to take a position at Nuffield Health, where he was struck by the complicated, lengthy and expensive processes needed for genetic diagnostics.
He deduced that by combining the separate processes into a handheld device, he could reduce cost and allow doctors to make complex diagnosis based on a patient’s DNA in real time.
The potential for such a device has global implications. It could increase right-first-time prescriptions and help manage drug reserves.
In developing nations, infectious diseases such as drug-resistant Tuberculosis (TB) could be correctly identified and the spread controlled.
With all of this in mind, Jonathan started a biotech company, QuantuMDx, to develop his ‘handheld laboratory’.
He reflects: “I didn’t know anything about running a business so I bought some books about entrepreneurship.” Jonathan wrote a business plan in 2004 and spent the next two years touting it to investors- to no avail.
Then, one day, medical entrepreneur Elaine Warburton called him. She could see the device’s potential and wanted to help.
With Elaine’s support, Jonathan set up a makeshift laboratory in his Sussex garage to research his idea.
QuantuMDx then secured a sizeable grant from the South African government, but changes to the funding requirements forced Jonathan and Elaine to return to the UK earlier than expected.
The eminent Newcastle-based geneticist Professor Sir John Burn, who was a director in the fledgling company, offered the pair an office at the International Centre for Life. But with no equipment, no staff and no money, the situation was dire.
“We were literally two days away from declaring ourselves bankrupt,” recalls Jonathan, “then someone put us in touch with an investor and after a Skype call, he wired us some money. I’ll never forget how close it came to being over.”
Since that moment in 2010, QuantuMDx has been able to develop the technology from its Newcastle base and has created a handheld device, named the Q-POC, which can deliver molecular testing in less than 20 minutes.
Staff numbers (many being graduates from North East universities) have grown to 55, and are expected to rise to 150 in the next year.
The company is about to lease two floors at the Lugano Building close to Newcastle’s Quayside, which will house nine state-of-the-art laboratories.
Clinical trials for the Q-POC are set to begin in early 2017 and, all being well, soft releases will follow soon after.
QuantuMDx’s growth to date has been funded by government grants and high-net-worth individuals, many from the North East.
Optimistic about the investment round currently underway, Jonathan explains that this funding will support the company through to commercialisation of Q-POC.
He recently met with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who now dedicates much of his time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Arguably the world’s most powerful business leader and philanthropist, Bill was not only impressed by the Q-POC’s capabilities in tackling TB in developing nations (a cause close to his heart), but in the device’s wider potential.
Jonathan says: “If we have Q-POC devices being used all over the world, sampling the genomes of infectious diseases, this will generate an enormous amount of data which can be sent to the cloud and monitored by big data analytics.
“The results are real-time epidemiology and early warning systems for a flu or Ebola outbreak.
“You’d literally be able to see evolution happening in front of you.”
He concludes: “It’s a mind blowing concept and with some help, we’ve got a good shot at making it a reality.”
QuantuMDx Group UK
Market Keepers House, International Centre for Life, Newcastle
Tel: 0870 803 1234