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Vitamica Announce Successful First Round of Funding

Oct 10, 2018

By Amy Ricketts, a Summer student, doing work experience for Innova Partnerships

As Vitamica completes its first round of seed funding, raising £370k, the future looks positive for the spin-out company established jointly between Innova Partnerships and Bristol University. The company brings a new perspective to rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) with their innovative technique originating from the School of Physics.

 Present methods of AST have remained largely unchanged for many years, and testing taking around 36-48 hours. The current practice is for bacteria to be cultured in a lab and their growth used as a phenotypic signal to show whether the bacteria are susceptible or resistant to, specific antibiotics. Vitamica’s technique has the potential to significantly reduce diagnostic times, meaning appropriate antibiotics will be prescribed only to patients that need them, importantly helping to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance. In an article published by Public Health England (Health matters: antimicrobial resistance, 2015), it states a failure to address the problem of antibiotic resistance could lead to around 10 million deaths every year globally by 2050, and a cost of £66 trillion in lost productivity to the global economy. As a forward-thinking company, Vitamica recognises the need for new, rapid diagnostics to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics, so are developing the technology into a tool to tackle this global problem.

In 2017 funding from the Medical Research Council was secured by Dr Massimo Antognozzi, senior lecturer in the School of Physics and now Vitamica’s CSO, aided by Innova Partnerships. This was a Confidence in Concept grant, and provided support for the early stages of validating the technology. Following this, the team at Bristol University successfully won a Longitude Prize Discovery award, which further helped improve the prototype instrument for data collection.

In late 2017, a Biomedical Catalyst application for funding from Innovate UK was successful, allowing the formation of Vitamica as a new spin-out company in January 2018. Alongside the Innovate UK award, investment in the first seed round has been secured from two early-stage funds and a number of private angel investors. The funding will allow production of further prototype instruments and the collection of data from a wider range of antibiotic interactions.

The University of Bristol has provided excellent backing to the spin-out company, including supporting two undergraduate students in short-term studentships with the company. These students were paid by the university to work on an optical encoder, writing software on automated positioning of the microscope stage for the AMR detection technology. Following on from this, funding from the EPSRC is supporting a 3-month fellowship for a PhD student, who is undergoing work focusing on image analysis and software.

The rapid AST technology was first developed by Dr Antognozzi and his team, and involves a recently developed imaging technique called sub-cellular fluctuation imaging (SCFI), that detects tiny fluctuations in the bacterial cell envelope, hence indicting that the bacteria is either alive (shimmering fluctuations observed) or dead (reduced, or no shimmering). This exciting new venture holds fantastic potential, with hopes to eventually see this technology used in hospitals, GP surgeries and veterinary clinics. For now, the short-term goals for Vitamica include building a larger set of data that show the true capabilities of the technique, allowing for ultimate validation of the technology. Dr Charlotte Bermingham, CTO at Vitamica continues to work on expanding the range of bacterial species and antibiotics tested, as well as working with colleagues to improve the ease at which the technology can be used.

Professor Steve Howell, founder of Innova Partnerships, agrees that Vitamica holds fantastic potential; “When we discovered the work that Dr Massimo Antognozzi was doing at the University of Bristol we were impressed. The over-use of antibiotics is a considerable problem, that along with increasing antibiotic resistance is of growing concern. Massimo's approach to addressing this problem was well thought out and shows significant promise. In helping the team at the University of Bristol spin out the technology and secure initial financing Innova Partnerships is committed to helping make Vitamica a success.” Talks are currently ongoing with potential investors, with hopes to close a second round of seed funding by autumn 2019.