The team who devised ground-breaking technology to create covid tests at the height of the pandemic have joined forces with US biotech giant Innova Medical Group (IMG) to adapt the technology to develop the tests for a range of other diseases including diabetes and Lyme disease.

Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd (VAL), an Aberdeen University spinout and emerging biotech, secured the investment with IMG, a leading specialist in innovative solutions for rapid screening and diagnosis of diseases, to form a new holding company called EpitogenX.

During the pandemic, VAL used their EpitoPrediktTM and EpitoGen® Technologies to develop antibody Covid tests as part of the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office Rapid Response in CV19 (RARC-19) research programme. EpitoGenX will focus on the development of these technologies to reach industrial maturity for widespread distribution.

EpitoPrediktTM an AI-driven system, was designed to identify specific elements, or ‘hot spots’, of the Covid virus that would trigger the body’s immune response. It will now be adapted to do the same for specific diseases.

EpitoGen® is a biological platform ‘scaffold’, developed to combine and display molecular elements as they would appear naturally in the pathogen or virus. This approach enhances the test’s performance, improves sensitivity and, as was vital during the pandemic, is flexible to incorporate new strains and variants into the tests.

The potential applications of the technology are vast including immunogenicity profiling, antibody production, nanobodies display, lab-based, point-of-care diagnostics and vaccine screening.

The immediate objective for EpitogenX is to develop lab-based and point-of-care diagnostic tests for Lyme disease and diabetes, both of which are notoriously difficult to diagnose early enough to enable timely intervention. The new tests will be cheaper and most importantly, have greater overall accuracy than currently available tests.

The long-term vision is to produce a portfolio of diagnostic products to detect autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases. Ultimately, fine-tuning of the technology could result in wider applications including vaccines and safer therapeutics for a variety of diseases.

Dr Abdo Alnabulsi, cofounder and CEO of VAL, explains: “Our core technologies are poised to transform the diagnostic, vaccine, and therapeutic fields. Our platforms provide superior products and services compared to current alternatives, with unmatched accuracy, flexibility, and adaptability, all while remaining affordable and cost-effective. This ensures that the benefits of our technologies are available to the NHS, low- and middle-income countries, and even the less-funded veterinary sector."

Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd spun out from the University of Aberdeen in 2011 with the mission to bring their knowledge and expertise to industry and ultimately the patient.

Dr Alnabulsi adds: "From the start, we set out to revolutionise the research and clinical sectors with innovative technologies. We're thrilled to have found a partner in IMG who shares our vision and values and is equally committed to developing transformative products."

"I'm confident that this partnership will accomplish great things, and that our technology and products will make a global impact."

Professor Mirela Delibegovic from the University of Aberdeen, who worked alongside VAL to develop the Covid test, added: “This investment into VAL is testament to the innovative and pioneering technology that has come out of the team. The potential for this technology is boundless and I look forward to seeing it used clinically in the future.”

Tiehui Wang, Co-founder and CSO of VAL, said: “The first part of our journey has been full of challenges, but we successfully achieved what we set out to do. Now in the second leg, we will work closely with the IMG team to roll out the next-generation tests and clinical products.”

Ann Lewendon: “The VAL team, now EpitoGenX, have always been visionaries, working to create disruptive platforms. I am glad to have been a part of their success story and witness their hard work come to fruition.”

Dr Robbin Xu (director of EpitogenX and scientific advisor at IMG): "IMG is proud of working with EpitogenX. Their innovative technology and the dedicated team have us confident in their ability to make a breakthrough in the near future."

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