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Norfolk Business Awards: The search for Norfolk’s heroes fighting Covid-19

PUBLISHED: 08:30 28 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:41 28 August 2020

The scientists at Iceni Diagnostics in Norwich are developing a rapid Covid-19 test   Pictures: Iceni Diagnostics/Si Barber

The scientists at Iceni Diagnostics in Norwich are developing a rapid Covid-19 test Pictures: Iceni Diagnostics/Si Barber

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The Norfolk Business Awards need your help – to find the businesses making a difference in the pandemic. Businesses like Norwich’s Iceni Diagnostics.

David Parfrey, executive chair at Norwich Research Park    Picture: Norwich Research ParkDavid Parfrey, executive chair at Norwich Research Park Picture: Norwich Research Park

We all know the world has changed because of Covid-19. “The pandemic was as devasting as it was unforeseen. But out of the crisis emerged heroes, who have been selfless in the help they delivered to directly fight the coronavirus or provide support to the communities who struggled to get by,” says David Parfrey, executive chair of Norwich Research Park which sponsors the Changing Lives Special Recognition Award at the Norfolk Business Awards.

This new award is for those companies that stepped up to tackle the virus – and it’s an award that needs your participation. Anyone can nominate a deserving business for this award and then a public vote will determine the final four on the shortlist for the judges to consider.

One of the firms at the forefront of the global struggle against the virus is based here in Norfolk, on Norwich Research Park. Iceni Diagnostics is using its unique technology to develop an affordable, easy-to-use test that will confirm whether someone has Covid-19 in under 15 minutes.

“In any infectious disease outbreak, it is important to quickly identify carriers of the disease and this is key to controlling the spread of infection,” says Dr Simone Dedola, R&D Manager at Iceni Diagnostics, who runs the project operations, leading a team of six scientists.

Professor Rob Field of Iceni Diagnostics with one of the prototype testing kitsProfessor Rob Field of Iceni Diagnostics with one of the prototype testing kits

The Iceni Diagnostics team began collecting data as soon as awareness of Covid-19 arose in Wuhan, to verify if there was scope to develop a rapid test. “Our long-term work on other respiratory viruses showed there was potential. However, being a small company, we have to be very disciplined about the number of projects we run,” Dr Dedola says. “In early March, with the wave of cases moving rapidly across Europe and increasing here, we took the decision to divert all our efforts towards a rapid test for Covid-19.”

While its more recent work has been dedicated to the equine influenza rapid test, Iceni Diagnostics has always worked in both animal and human health. “We have worked on norovirus, human flu, and other human-vaccine related projects with Public Health England and the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory,” says Dr Dedola.

The Iceni team quickly identified key components of the coronavirus, producing preliminary tests that were run alongside PCR testing in the local NHS lab – and these produced very encouraging results. “The science behind our test is robust. We are convinced we will produce a highly effective rapid test that will make a major contribution to managing this pandemic,” says Dr Dedola.

The key benefit of the Iceni Diagnostics HPGR (Host-Pathogen Glycan Recognition) technology is its ability to identify live virus whether the patient is showing symptoms or not. Other tests identify genetic material from the virus, but a positive result found this way could come from live or inactive virus, meaning a positive result may be from a patient who is no longer infected, still putting them in unnecessary quarantine.

Dr Simone Dedola leads a team of six scientists at Iceni DiagnosticsDr Simone Dedola leads a team of six scientists at Iceni Diagnostics

With the Iceni Diagnostics test, a positive result means live, active virus is present, giving a clear indication of infection. This makes the test an ideal rapid triage option that effectively complements laboratory testing.

“The practical advantages of the Iceni Diagnostics test are that it is easy to produce and can be scaled up, using established manufacture sites,” says Dr Dedola. “This would allow a low-cost device to be mass-produced to meet the substantial demands for immediate and recurrent coronavirus testing in the weeks and months ahead.”

The work of Iceni Diagnostics really could change all our lives for the better – and that is why they’re one of the businesses nominated for the Changing Lives Special Recognition Award. “Those people and organisations didn’t do it for recognition. They did because it was the right thing to do and they could do it,” concludes David Parfrey of Norwich Research Park. “We should now take the time to look around our communities and say thank you to those people who stepped up to the plate to help others.”

This simple kit developed in Norwich could help turn the tide against Covid-19This simple kit developed in Norwich could help turn the tide against Covid-19

To nominate a business for the Changing Lives Special Recognition Award, click here.


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