Breath Biopsy platform scoops the UK’s most-prestigious award for engineering innovation


The Royal Academy of Engineering names Owlstone Medical, creators of the ReCIVA Breath Sampler, as winners of the 2018 MacRobert Award

The team behind a unique Breath Biopsy platform that has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives and $1.5billion in healthcare costs globally, has been named the winner of the MacRobert Award 2018 by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Owlstone Medical’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler has opened up the potential for earlier diagnosis and precision medicine across cancer, inflammatory disease, and infectious disease.

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, as Royal Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, presented the team of engineers from the Cambridge-based company with the gold medal and a £50,000 prize at the academy’s awards dinner at the Tower of London last week.

Owlstone Medical has created the first platform capable of capturing breath samples and analysing them in a robust and reproducible way.

These samples can be used to identify the unique chemical ‘biomarkers’ of a variety of diseases, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), in human breath.

As VOC levels change at the ver- earliest stages of disease and provide information on the current activity of cells and tissue, the breath samples could lead to earlier diagnosis of diseases such as cancer when treatments are more effective and more lives can be saved.

The Owlstone Medical team won a £50,000 prize

The Owlstone Medical team won a £50,000 prize

Breath biomarkers also have the potential to revolutionise the way medicine is prescribed, as they could be used to monitor drug effectiveness and match patients to the correct treatment, and cut healthcare costs by lowering drug wastage.

The ReCIVA Breath Sampler, inspired by discussions with more than 100 experts from design engineers to clinicians, is used to capture the samples in a non-invasive way, and these are then analysed through the company’s Breath Biopsy platform.

The platform uses Owlstone’s microchip chemical sensor technology (FAIMS) to detect specific disease biomarkers with a high level of sensitivity.

Developing a standardised method to collect and analyse breath biopsies means that Owlstone can build a robust, comparable Breath Biopsy Digital Biobank including thousands of breath VOC profiles matched to phenotype and overcome many of the historical challenges associated with the identification of VOCs and how these are associated with specific diseases.

Owlstone Medical is developing tests to diagnose lung and colorectal cancer, two of the most-common cancer killers worldwide and is currently undertaking clinical trials with the NHS and Cancer Research.

Owlstone Medical has now created a device that is dependable and non-intrusive and has the potential to revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat a vast array of diseases

The company also supplies Breath Biopsy products and services to academic, clinical and pharma partners who want to develop breath-based diagnostics for their own applications.

GlaxoSmithKline recently chose to integrate the Breath Biopsy platform into the clinical development programme for one of the new drugs it is developing for respiratory disease, to assess whether it is possible to identify the right patient for the right treatment.

The MacRobert Award, run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is the UK’s longest-running and most-prestigious award for engineering innovation.

First presented in 1969, it has recognised the extraordinary potential of innovations that have changed the world we live in.

In 1972, for instance, the judges honoured the development of the first CT scanner by EMI – seven years before its inventor Sir Godfrey Hounsfield received the Nobel Prize.

Dr Dame Sue Ion, chairman of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “Owlstone Medical stood out because of the extraordinary engineering its breath sampler, and the associated breath biopsy platform, required to bring these technologies to life.

“The company has demonstrated exceptional innovation at every stage of development; from the mask used to help capture breath, the tubes that help collect the samples, to the software and hardware designed to ensure the tests are reliable and repeatable.

“Owlstone Medical has now created a device that is dependable and non-intrusive and has the potential to revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat a vast array of diseases.

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“The societal benefit is clear to see, and I believe they could realise their vision of saving more than a billion dollars in global healthcare costs and saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”