Decline in novel testing technologies for antimicrobial resistance

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New research has pointed to a decline in novel testing technologies for antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It highlights a downward trend in the number of new point-of-care technologies being created to diagnose infectious disease and identify pathogens and antimicrobial resistance, amid a concerning lack of innovation and investment.

Ahead of the World Health Summit in Berlin, a comprehensive study of patent filings was undertaken by IP firm Marks & Clerk and CPA Global for Nesta’s Longitude Prize. The study reveals a year-on-year decline in patent filings for point-of-care diagnostics to tackle infectious disease and detect pathogens and AMR through 2014 and 2015.

Following a dip in innovation as a possible result of the financial crisis of 2008, patent filings reached their highest levels for the past decade in 2014, with 118 patents for point-of-care diagnostics for infectious disease filed globally. By 2015, this figure had dropped significantly to 94 patents.

The global market for point-of-care diagnostics for infectious disease, and particularly those looking to tackle AMR, remains in its infancy. Most diagnostics are routinely done in a laboratory setting so that the introduction of a new point-of-care diagnostic requires the creation of new markets.

Much of the recent new funding in AMR has been allocated for early research into new antibiotics and so far funds to support diagnostics have been limited.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Social Care announced capital funding for research into AMR.

In 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a list of 12 ‘priority pathogens’, which will be central to the fight against AMR. Patents filed subsequent to the publication of this list will not yet appear in the data, but the report shows there is already a good deal of activity directed at these pathogens.

The Longitude Prize has been designed to incentivise innovation in rapid tests to reduce antibiotic resistance using Nesta’s challenge prize methodology. Currently 75 diagnostic developers from 14 countries are competing to win an £8 million prize.

Launched in 2014, the prize aims to foster innovation in globally accessible, affordable, rapid and accurate point-of-care diagnostic devices to help reduce the inappropriate prescribing of antimicrobial drugs.

The study showed that industry leads the way with almost two-thirds of patent filings. A number of academic institutions are particularly active, nine of the top ten of which are in the US, led by the University of California, Harvard University and John Hopkins University. The other institution in the top ten is the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

The US continues to lead the way with 60 per cent of patent families with inventions in this area. The UK is the second largest source for developments in this field with eight per cent, followed by Europe (six per cent), Japan (four per cent), Korea (three per cent) and China (two per cent).

The research uncovered a general downward trend in filings in the UK, Korea, Japan and via the European Patent Convention, whereas there was an upward trend in South Africa, China and Australia.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a recent increase in filings for mobile phone-led technology and hand-held devices, 44 per cent of which have been filed within the past five years. Mobile technology is crucial for the advent of in-field and at-home testing, as it promises diagnostics that can reach remote areas, without the need for laboratory testing or complex and expensive equipment.