Bacterial infection detector scoops Horizon Prize - News & Features

14 February 2017
Bacterial infection detector scoops Horizon Prize

A handheld device, which can distinguish between viral and bacterial infections has won the first ever European Union ‘Horizon Prize – Better Use of Antibiotics’ in Leuven, Belgium last week.

The HNL test, developed by Royal Philips and Diagnostic Development, uses the Philips’ Minicare I-20 handheld diagnostic platform. Requiring only a finger prick of blood, the device calculates the amount of Human Neutrophil Lipocalin (HNL) in the sample. It then uses the levels detected to determine whether the subject is experiencing a bacterial or a viral infection.

Dangerous rise

HNL has been shown to be an effective biomarker due to its increased levels in blood during a bacterial infection. Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, bequeathed the €1 million prize and said: "Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a major challenge to public health. We are helping to bring this device to patients as quickly as possible, so that antibiotics are only used for bacterial infections and not for viral infections where they are ineffective or unnecessary. This helps to tackle the dangerous rise in antimicrobial resistance."

Securing the Horizon Prize will help finance commercialisation of the Minicare HNL, which is expected to be available for patient use by 2018. Helping the device secure the winning spot was the fact it needs only a few minutes to provide results and its simplicity, meaning non-laboratory staff are able to use it easily.

The device has been developed by Minicare HNL, a combined research effort of P&M Venge AB from Sweden and PHILIPS Electronics from the Netherlands.

Antibiotic abuse

Horizon Prizes are 'challenge' prizes (also known as ‘inducement' prizes) offering a cash reward to whoever can most effectively meet a defined challenge. Horizon Prizes do not prescribe the methodology or any technical details, giving applicants total freedom to come up with the most promising and effective solution. The aim is to stimulate innovation and come up with solutions to problems that matter to European citizens.

Professor Per Venge, CEO of P & M Venge AB which was involved in developing the Minicare HNL, said, “There is a misuse and abuse of antibiotics today and that’s because doctors don’t have the tools to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections.

In various studies, HNL has demonstrated superior performance compared to biomarkers currently used to diagnose bacterial infection. I am therefore very excited that we have been able to successfully demonstrate the detection of HNL on the Minicare I-20 using blood samples from patients with upper respiratory tract infections in the Uppsale University hospital, where within a few minutes patients with a bacterial infection could be clearly distinguished from those with viral infections or other conditions.”

Patience and patients

While the future’s looking promising, the Minicare HNL still has some hurdles to navigate. The senior director at Philips, Joreon Nieuwenhuisaid: “We now have a proof of concept which is very encouraging but before we can get to a test that can be used in a practise there is still a lot of development to be done so we have to validate it on a lot more patients.”

While the Horizon Prize is won and winging its way to mass production, the race is still on for a range of other funding competitions. The Longitude Prize aims to reward a competitor that can develop a transformative point-of-care diagnostic test that will revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare and conserve antibiotics for future generations. The test must be accurate, rapid, affordable, easy-to-use and available to anyone, anywhere in the world. It will identify when antibiotics are needed and, if they are, which ones to use.