The Disruptors: Iceni Diagnostics’ ‘pregnancy test’-style kit ready to change diagnostics for the better

Could measuring stable carbohydrates instead of proteins during health tests will improve the future of diagnostics? Iceni Diagnostics thinks so. The latest in The Disruptors video series, co-founder and CEO Rob Field explains how they turned an academic venture into a disruptive start-up.

What was the opportunity that you identified that inspired you to launch your business?

Currently the multi-billion pound diagnostics industry in both medicine and agriculture is driven by protein and DNA technologies. Yet the use of carbohydrate recognition presents major unmet opportunities to assess health, to diagnose disease, and to target therapy.

Applications based on carbohydrates (sugars) are limited to date due to lack of expertise in identifying, developing and manufacturing the appropriate reagents, but we have proprietary capability and sector-leading expertise to build and deploy these complex carbohydrates for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

How did you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

It’s still early days, but we’re working to address the potential of on-the-ward and at-farm-gate detection of infectious diseases, making informed prescription of antibiotics or other interventions much more rapid.

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

An issue when working with infectious diseases is that you need access to all sorts of nasty bacteria and viruses as part of testing and development. Luckily, we’ve been extremely fortunate to work with WHO reference labs at the Crick Institute, London, colleagues in the Norwich Medical School and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and veterinary and horseracing agencies in Newmarket. This was invaluable to us and we really appreciate their engagement and support.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

Having our first device ready for beta-testing marked a major step from our original academic idea to a fully working device.

If you were starting from the beginning again, what would you do differently?

Coming from an academic background, it’s fair to say that you only really learn about business by doing business.The earlier you take the plunge and engage with stakeholders and investors, the better.

What advice would you give to somebody launching a disruptive start-up?

Don’t underestimate the power that an experienced board can have on your speed of development. Their familiarity and connectivity with the industry and investor community will open doors.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re looking to extend our portfolio of diagnostic devices to serve other infectious diseases, and push on with our work on carbohydrate-based vaccines to protect against infection.