Success stories

William Oak Diagnostics

Rapid at-home vitamin testing for maternal health

A new lateral flow test currently in development will allow new and expectant mums to test their micronutrient levels all entirely at home.

William Oak Diagnostics was formed in January 2023 by Dr Alexander Patto (now CEO) and Tim Dwyer (CTO) after Alex took part in the Medtech SuperConnector (MTSC) programme.

As well as the MTSC, the company has received funding from Cambridge Enterprise and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) program which will be used to show proof-of-concept of a prototype device.

In addition to Tim, the company has recently recruited an experienced leadership team, including Head of Biotechnology Adrian Walker, a pioneer of some of the first at-home pregnancy tests.

Alex comments: “Our focus is on maternal health, including women trying to conceive, those who are pregnant and also women breastfeeding – stages where maternal deficiencies potentially have a huge impact on the baby. We’re developing a test that not just measures one deficiency, but many at the same time, with just one drop of blood. Currently we intend to test vitamin D, vitamin K, B12, folic acid and iron.

“The device is simple to use, with just one push of a button, eliminating additional apparatus, and opening up a patient centred approach. Results will be analysed using a phone app for clear decision-making, with data uploaded to healthcare providers automatically.”

Navigating a tragedy

Alex studied genetics at the Universities of Cardiff (BSc) and Cambridge (PhD), going on to establish not-for-profit venture Water Scope in 2015, which focused on fast and affordable of testing of water-borne pathogens in underserved areas of the world.

Sadly, in 2020, Alex’s baby son William died suddenly due to an underlying deficiency in vitamin K. Whilst Alex and his family were navigating this tragedy, he decided to investigate if there might be a way to monitor vital micronutrients and flag deficiencies

He was able to pivot some the skills he’d acquired through his previous venture Water Scope to the new idea. For this application though, they decided to utilise a lateral flow assay of the kind used in COVID-19 tests – but optimised with microfluidic technology and a novel housing.

The test produces lines, of varying intensity, which in turn indicate the level of various micronutrients. There will also be the option to integrate with a mobile phone application to give more nuanced information, and patient guidance, as Alex explains.

“We know from literature and various studies, that different groups of people, whether it be socio-economic background, ethnic factors, or other traits, need different requirements around micronutrients and deficiencies. Therefore, it’s not just about saying: ‘you’re deficient, take this.’ Instead, a personalised approach is needed, taking into account any predisposed risk conditions. That’s where the digital side is exciting, and that’s really enabled by this very easy and quick testing.”

Pressure testing ideas

Alex successfully applied to the MTSC in 2022 to further understand the opportunity and streamline the business case.

“It was a great place to pressure test ideas and what we were doing, particularly the market opportunity – will people actually pay for this? I came in with a bit of experience from my previous company of development and fundraising. What I didn’t have, and the reason why I applied to MTSC, was the medical focus and venture capital investment route. It also helped me to properly understand the regulatory and funding landscape of remote diagnostics and fully scrutinize the strategy we had.”

Alex also credits the diverse peer network of other MTSC entrepreneurs who are at different stages of their journey and can offer a unique vantage point and perspective.

“We’re still contact with many of them and I meet a couple of them regularly. We’ve actually helped each other in a tangible way to get more funding as part of the same funding call.”

Good health for all mothers

William Oak Diagnostics is currently in a period of rapid growth and iteration of its core product, sourcing more funding for development and validation.

Alex currently serves as co-founder and CEO and with fellow co-founder Tim Dwyer as Chief Technology Officer (CTO). They have recently recruited two senior positions with highly experienced professionals, namely Dr Ibrahim Ba (Principal Scientist), and Adrian Walker (Head of Biotechnology)

The company is also looking to partner with private healthcare companies. While most couples still opt to go through the NHS route during pregnancy, many of those also tap into private services – for example 80% of parents pay for a scan.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is enable everyone to have the opportunity to make sure that their baby or expectant baby is as healthy as possible, eliminating micronutrient deficiencies as a health concern for maternal and child health” says Alex.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is enable everyone to have the opportunity to make sure that their baby or expectant baby is as healthy as possible, eliminating micronutrient deficiencies as a health concern for maternal and child health”

Dr Alexander Patto, Co-Founder of William Oak Diagnostics

Programme overview

MTSC selects the finest talent from academic institutions across the UK, taking them through a 6-month part-time intensive venture building programme. 

Through a track-based format delivered in partnership with leading institutions and industry players, we are prioritising transformative healthcare innovations in high-impact areas that present significant commercial opportunities.

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