DIAGNOSTICS specialist Avacta Group is in talks with a wide range of potential customers for its latest invention – Affimers, a high-tech alternative to antibodies.
The Wetherby-based company designed Affimers in order to address the negative performance issues that exist with real antibodies, namely the time it takes to generate new antibodies and the variation in batches.
Avacta said that its man-made antibodies are much more resilient, cheaper and stronger than animal antibodies.
The company, which designs and makes devices to speed up and reduce the cost of drug development and analysis, said antibodies can easily get damaged when they are made into products.
Companies use antibodies in laboratory tests to help scientific research, drug development, diagnostics and purification.
Avacta’s chief executive Dr Alastair Smith said the group will launch an Affimers catalogue on its website this summer.
This will be aimed at a mixture of academic and commercial customers, including plasma, biotech and food companies. Food producers use antibodies to test enzyme activity in food safety.
“There are opportunities for us outside medicine,” said Dr Smith.
“This is an exciting time for the group. The opportunity for Affimers looks enormous. It’s bigger than the opportunity for animal health and the analytical business. Affimers could become the most significant part of the group.”
He was speaking yesterday as Avacta announced a 40 per cent increase in half-year revenues to £1.61m.
Pre-tax losses for the six months to January 31 fell from £1m to £800,000.
Asked when the group will make a profit, Dr Smith said: “We said we’d be profitable in 2012 and then we added the Affimers business. It depends on us being able to drive revenues. I think profitability is visible now.”
Elsewhere in the group, the animal health division recently launched a lymphoma blood test for dogs in the UK and is looking at launching the test in the US and is looking for American partners.
This division has also launched a new test for pancreatitis, a very common inflammatory disorder of the pancreas in dogs.
The acute form of the disease occurs in around 1.5 per cent of dogs, but the prevalence of the chronic form is reported to be as high as 30 per cent, suggesting a large market for a pancreatitis diagnostic test.
The group said the market could be even larger than this because many dogs with pancreatitis are misdiagnosed because the accompanying vomiting, anorexia, painful abdomen, hunched posture, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration and lack of energy are mistaken for other ailments.
There are 83 million dogs in the US and 8.5 million in the UK.
Avacta, which was spun out of the University of Leeds in 2004, said the new test uses the same approach as its canine lymphoma blood test.
This approach combines the results of two common blood tests with other symptoms and other information about the dog such as age and breed.
Currently, there is only one other proprietary test for pancreatitis in the market.
“We’re confident ours is better,” said Dr Smith.
Avacta said research shows that its test has better sensitivity, specificity and predictive capability than the established test when tested on confirmed pancreatitis cases clinically diagnosed by vets.
Avacta will commercialise the test with a ‘pay per click’ scheme which will allow vet laboratories around the world to get an accurate and immediate diagnosis for pancreatitis.
The firm said it has seen an increase in sales of Optim2, an instrument that tests new drugs.
Nine units were sold in the six months to January 31, up from two units in its previous first half.
Following the results, analyst Charles Weston at Numis said: “We reiterate our ‘buy‘ rating on the shares and our 1.9p per share price target.
“We continue to believe that the Animal Health and Life Science divisions could individually be worth significantly more than the current value of the group.“