NEW YORK (360Dx) – Randox Laboratories recently announced plans to invest £50 million ($70 million) in three new centers of excellence at its headquarters in Northern Ireland.
Randox believes its cash commitment will fill its clinical diagnostics pipeline for years to come, and collaborators include specialists in high-resolution imaging and nanotechnology.
The three new centers — focused on clinical diagnostics, quality control, and engineering — should enable the Crumlin, UK-based company to develop "innovative and accurate diagnostics" that enable early diagnosis and preventive healthcare, according to Senior Manager Mark Campbell, allowing the firm to "push the boundaries of what is diagnostically possible."
Randox was established in 1982 and matured into a global player with 1,400 employees with products for food testing, toxicology, and in vitro diagnostics. Many of its assays are based on its Biochip Array Technology platform, including its 19-SNP Cardiac Risk Prediction Array for cardiac risk prediction, and its ApoE4 Biochip Array, which it claims can detect a person's genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease in three hours.
To support the assays, Randox also offers its menu of Evidence immunoanalyzer instruments.
While Campbell declined to specify which disease areas that Randox is interested in, he said the new centers of excellence will "deliver cutting-edge technologies for the diagnosis of a wide range of clinical conditions in which the greatest clinical benefit can be gained.
"The nature of the specific work undertaken is, of course, sensitive and confidential," he added.
Randox also produces laboratory quality control products for the IVD market, including a line of 390 parameters it markets under the name Acusera. It also offers external quality control assessments to client labs.
The company will now build three separate centers to focus on the clinical diagnostics and quality control areas, as well as engineering. Campbell said that the £50 million investment is expected to support the three centers for five years to "carry forward our capabilities in each discipline."
"These projects will also be engines of our future growth," Campbell continued, "providing the vehicle to expand our existing 1,400-strong workforce, and to increase future productivity," he said.
In terms of expansion, Campbell said that Randox has "significant plans for growth" in the coming decade and that the firm is "confident these centers will make a marked contribution.
"It's not possible to put precise figures on the specific impact," Campbell added. "They will clearly be engines for growth, but at this stage we are more focused on the R&D and innovation output."
Campbell noted that clinical diagnostics, quality control, and associated engineering are three specialist disciplines with their own specific requirements.
"Although aligned within the diagnostics framework, they each require their own unique center of excellence," he said. The £50 million investment, while divided up among the centers, is intended to achieve the best diagnostic outcomes, he added. "Although each center of excellence will operate as a standalone project, the projects will all contribute to innovation within the clinical diagnostics space."
Invest Northern Ireland, the country's regional economic development agency, will provide £23 million of the £50 million investment to Randox, of which £5 million will support new research projects at Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University, which are collaborating in the new centers. Invest NI CEO Alastair Hamilton said in a statement the investment would improve "credibility, provide supply chain opportunities, and encourage knowledge transfer" in Northern Ireland.
Invest NI's R&D support is in part funded through the European Regional Development Fund via the EU's Investment for Growth and Jobs Program, which will run through 2020.
Two academic collaborators who have been named as participants in Randox's new centers of excellence are David Jess, a senior lecturer in QUB's School of Mathematics and Physics, and Jim McLaughlin, director of Ulster University's Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Center.
Jess, an astrophysicist who has worked with NASA, said that his research interests are focused on understanding the dynamic phenomena captured in high-resolution images of the sun's atmosphere.
"Most people assume that because the sun is so bright in our sky, it would be very easy to capture high-resolution images from our largest telescopes," Jess said. "However, because the dynamic phenomena we see move so fast, we need to take images with incredibly short exposure times so these features do not smear on our captured images," he said. "As a result, we often have to employ advanced image processing techniques to reveal and extract the features of interest in our solar datasets.
It's Jess' background in high-resolution imaging that piqued the interest of Randox's R&D team. "It seems the techniques we are developing for advancing astrophysical research can also be hugely beneficial for more robust and reliable diagnosis of patient healthcare tests," said Jess.
Jess' role in the new centers of excellence will be to lead a team of researchers to take existing image enhancement techniques and to develop, enhance, verify, and validate them on Randox's bioanalyzers.
"It is our belief that such robust enhancement techniques will be able to test and diagnose patients quicker and more accurately, thus providing a more timely diagnosis and better opportunities for early treatment," he said.
Jim McLaughlin's research interests include the integration of sensors, microfluidics, and photonics. He is also the cofounder and CTO of a company called Intelesens, which makes wireless vital-signs monitoring systems. Laughlin has also been heavily involved in making Ulster University's IP available to healthcare companies and has established numerous research centers.
Last year, McLaughlin helped to set up the Eastern Corridor Medical Engineering Center, a £6 million, EU-backed project that aims in part to develop point-of-care diagnostics for cardiac conditions. McLaughlin is personally involved in developing CPR diagnostics that will allow early warning of alterations in cardiac function while patients are being transported to hospitals.
McLaughlin said that the new investment will enable "pioneering Randox-inspired engineering capacity" at Ulster University. "From nanotechnology to the development of systems that will enable large-scale laboratory capability to be produced in the palm of your hand, the partnership brings shared industry and academic research excellence from the lab into the marketplace," he said. "This collaboration will advance diagnostics and ultimately enhance patient health outcomes."
More specifically, McLaughlin said that together with Randox he aims to "develop novel rapid, point-of-care tests involving nanoparticle amplification techniques, coupled with new integrated imaging, artificial intelligence, and predictive algorithms to diagnose a range of cardiac, cancer, and inflammatory biomarkers."
He said his team of researchers is confident that such "new, highly sensitive self-diagnostic systems will allow for improved home-based monitoring across a range of disease groups."