Why the UK leads Europe in antimicrobial point-of-care diagnostics research
The U.K. takes the lead position when it comes to patent filings for point-of-care diagnostics in Europe, according to new research from Landon IP, the patent analytics and consulting arm of intellectual property management specialist CPA Global, and intellectual property firm Marks & Clerk.
The research, a comprehensive patent landscape study undertaken for the Longitude Prize, shows that the U.K. is second only to the U.S. in the number of first fillings for patent applications directed to point-of-care diagnostics tests since 2009.
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Longitude Prize is a £10 million prize fund aiming to revolutionise global health care and conserve antibiotics for future generations. It is run by innovation charity Nesta with the U.K.’s innovation agency, Innovate UK as funding partner.
The findings are included in a report, Microbial infection: Point-of-care diagnostics, which examines patent filing behaviour relating to antimicrobial point-of-care diagnostics tests over the past five years. The aim of the research was to provide a global view of patents being filed in this area and to provide a useful tool for the judging panel to use as part of their assessment of entries.
With the rise of antimicrobial resistance identified as one of the greatest modern-day risks, Longitude Prize seeks to find a fast, accurate, easy-to-use and cost-effective test for microbial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time. The U.K.’s dedication to fighting antimicrobial resistance was previously substantiated in the ‘Five Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy’ (2013-2018) produced by the Department of Health and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
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After the U.S. (where 258 out of 332 patent families were first filed) and the U.K. (26 out of 332), Germany, Australia, Singapore and South Korea are the next most common jurisdictions for patent first filings (six each).
SMEs, multinationals and universities all active in point-of-care diagnostics
Over half of patent filings relating to point-of-care diagnostics around the world were by private companies (170 out of 332 families between 2009 and 2014). Particularly dedicated to the cause are SMEs, which represent 70 per cent of patent filings by private companies (121 patent families out of 170). However, universities are also hotbeds of innovation, accounting for 118 families.
U.S. life sciences company Abbott is by far the most prolific filer of patents relating to point-of-care diagnostics, with 26 patent families. The University of California is the only other entity that has filed more than five patent families in this area. Many of the U.K.-originating patent applications belong to entities that have filed just one relevant patent family each.
More tests targeted at TB than any other condition
Of the patent applications that specified which kind of antigen the device and/or assay (diagnostics method) sought to detect, 134 were targeted at bacteria and 114 were targeted at viruses. Only seven were targeted at parasites and five at fungi. The most commonly targeted individual antigens were mycobacteria (a cause of tuberculosis – 28 applications), HIV (nine applications), MRSA (eight applications) and C. difficile (nine applications).
Over half of patent families filed related to assays (170 out of 332), while less than a fifth related to diagnostics devices themselves (55 out of 332). The remainder of applications related to both an assay and device.
Dr. Paul Chapman, Partner and Patent Attorney at Marks & Clerk, and Longitude Prize 2014 advisory panel member, commented in a recent release, “New point-of-care diagnostics tests are key to the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Encouragingly, our research shows that there are a number of UK companies innovating in this area. Nonetheless, although leading within Europe, levels of UK innovation in antimicrobial point-of-care diagnostics still lag behind the USA by quite some margin. More will need to be done to address the issue and to stimulate further innovation in this vital area.”
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CPA Global’s Chief Executive Officer, Tim Griffiths, added, “Public awareness of the significant global health threat posed by the rise of antimicrobial resistance is increasing, as is the urgency in finding a solution. Our patent landscaping study shows that many different types of entities are engaged in this endeavour, with large pharmaceutical companies and SMEs, universities, and government agencies all carrying out research into point-of-care diagnostics. However, the study also demonstrates that there is considerable scope for further research - and we hope initiatives like Longitude Prize 2014 will encourage other innovative organisations and individuals to take up the challenge.”
Commenting on the findings of the report Tamar Ghosh, Longitude Prize Lead at Nesta, said, “This patent landscape study is a very valuable tool for the Prize. It helps us to understand the specific types of research in different parts of the world, and will also be used as a tool to help the judging Panel assess entries. Our hope is that the combination of Longitude Prize and greater awareness of the problem of antimicrobial resistance will fuel a dramatic acceleration in the search for solutions, many of which may be surprising and from unexpected sources.”
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.