A team of researchers from Norfolk is developing new technology that could revolutionise the way Avian Influenza is diagnosed, thanks to a £60,000 grant from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.
The threat of Avian Influenza, or ‘bird-flu’, to poultry farmers across the East is well documented. In recent years highly pathogenic H5N1 and H5N8 avian influenza strains have been reported in flocks of chickens, turkeys and geese. There have been reports outside the UK of the virus crossing to humans and so authorities immediately cull whole flocks and other flocks in close proximity, whether the birds are infected or not. In February 2017 the H5N8 strain was strain was discovered at a poultry farm in Redgrave, Suffolk where 23,000 birds were culled.
Iceni Diagnostics (ID) is designing a hand-held device that could be used by a vet on-farm. The device would use a carbohydrate-based chemical, developed in ID’s Norwich Research Park laboratories, which latches on to the avian influenza virus, providing an instant diagnosis and speeding up a process that currently requires samples to be sent off for testing. It’s hoped this new method might reduce the need for precautionary mass culls of poultry in the future.
As well as its speed, the new diagnostic technique being developed by ID has the added advantage that it is effective on new strains of the virus, which continue to emerge worldwide. The company also anticipates creating a significant number of jobs in the Norwich area as the device progresses to market.
Rob Field, Co-founder and CEO of Iceni Dignostics, said: “We are delighted to receive this support to develop a novel avian influenza diagnostics product that will help the East Anglian farming community. The award will also allow us to support the further development of the biotech base in Norwich.”
Mark Reeve, Chairman of the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative Board and Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, said: “The diagnostic tool being developed by Iceni Diagnostics represents a very valuable turning point for farmers looking for effective solutions to manage the costly threat of Avian flu. We were very keen to offer grant support to such a vital device that will undoubtedly have a huge impact on farmers in the East of England. In addition, the creation of jobs in the Norwich area makes this project hugely beneficial, and underpins everything we are trying to achieve with the Agri-Tech Funding Initiative.”
Doug Field, Chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The new technology being developed by Iceni Diagnostics could have a profound impact on the poultry industry here in the East and indeed worldwide. It is yet another example of the quality of research taking place in our life sciences sector, and one which has the potential to provide high value jobs in the future.”
Cllr Claire Bowes, Norfolk County Council’s Agritech Panel member, said: “We are delighted to support and promote the Eastern Agritech scheme within Norfolk and Suffolk. Iceni Diagnostics’ product should hasten the diagnosis of bird flu and thereby help to prevent future avian flu pandemics. The low cost and ease of use of the product should also benefit hobbyists too.”
The Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative is run by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) with support from New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the local authorities covering this area.
Grants are available to organisations looking to improve productivity and efficiency through investment in specialist equipment, new market and supply chain development and the application of Research and Development.