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Industry News: Owlstone medical wins contract from U.S. department of defense to develop handheld breath biopsy device for early infectious disease detection

Goal of the project is to provide a device to every warfighter in the field where access to diagnostic testing or medical personnel is limited

18 May 2023

Owlstone Medical has announced that it has won an award from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a division of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), for ‘Exhaled Breath Diagnostics’. The project is focused on the early detection of human infection using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on breath and will aim to develop a handheld device capable of non-invasive detection of pre-symptomatic respiratory infectious disease.

Warfighters routinely operate in remote environments where access to medical personnel is limited and the ability to diagnose infectious disease early is challenging. Under these conditions, the risk of contracting a respiratory disease, and subsequently its spread to other personnel, is high and can have a severe impact on mission readiness. Most current diagnostic testing platforms are unsuitable to be deployed in the field, so there is a significant need for a portable solution.

The portable device by Owlstone will be adapted to work off battery power and detect VOCs present in exhaled breath, filling a gap in infectious disease detection. By aiming for the earliest possible identification of asymptomatic infected individuals in the field, the device would reduce the risk of disease transmission wherever deployed, providing a strategic advantage to the force.

Based on the company’s proprietary field asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS) technology, the device will be developed over a two-year period, supported by clinical studies to be performed at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Initial work will focus on identifying and validating breath biomarkers for viral and bacterial pathogens and defining performance requirements for the device.

If successful, there is potential for a second phase of the project for further development of the device to the point of being ready for high-volume manufacturing by Owlstone, and global deployment in the field.

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