BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Oxford Immunotec Ltd. completed a £7 million (US$12.5 million) second-round funding, providing the means to move ahead with the commercialization of its T-cell diagnostic test for tuberculosis and to develop further diagnostics based on the technology.

Peter Wrighton-Smith, CEO, told BioWorld International: "We raised more than we were looking for in a very difficult funding climate, so we are extremely pleased. I see this as a good validation of the company's products."

The round was led by Prelude Ventures, which invested £2.75 million, with Questor, Dow Chemical Co. and Top Technology.

Oxford-based Oxford Immunotec received its first European approval for its lead product, T-SPOT-TB, a year ago. "The primary focus, now that we have the funding, is to augment our fledgling sales and marketing operation," Wrighton-Smith said. "We will complete the process of getting [pan-European] regulatory approval and aim to bring Europe to profit in 2006."

However, Wrighton-Smith did not rule out further private rounds, saying, "The key thing is to develop the market in the U.S. and the strategy may involve further private funding."

T-SPOT-TB detects if the immune system has produced effector T cells in response to infection. The test is sensitive enough to detect a single T cell in a blood sample and can be used to monitor their numbers over the course of an infection.

Oxford Immunotec's aim is to replace the tuberculin skin test, a 115-year old test that takes days to complete and is not sensitive to latent infections. T-SPOT-TB is being purchased and trialed in Europe, and guidelines on its use are being promulgated. "This is a new technique for laboratories so it will require trialing and evaluations before the test is adopted," Wrighton-Smith said.

In recent years, tuberculosis has re-emerged as a serious health threat, with the World Health Organization estimating there are 8 million new infections and 2 to 3 million deaths per year. The ability to monitor the level of infection is necessary because patients often feel better and discontinue their course of drugs before the infection is cleared.

Oxford Immunotec is developing tests for viral diseases, sexually transmitted infections and autoimmune infections also, but Wrighton-Smith declined to give further details. "Our focus is to ensure [the TB diagnostic] is a success, to enable the platform technology to achieve recognition," he said.

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