Specific Technologies has secured a $3m small business innovation research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a novel diagnostic system for tuberculosis (TB).

The grant will be used for the commercial development of a TB culture system, which combines detection and speciation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM).  

SpecID is claimed to be the first of its kind system being developed to identify TB and NTM directly during primary culture.

Through using printed chemical sensor array, the novel SpecID system will identify microorganism from a phenotypic metabolic signature obtained during growth.

Printed chemical sensor array will enable to secure a fingerprint, which combines detection and identification into a simple and automated single step.

The work under grant program is expected to cover three years, and includes clinical trial that is being conducted in partnership with Dr. Mark Nichol at the University of Capetown in South Africa.

The trial is expected to start in the third year. 

According to Specific, NIH’s direct-to-phase II SBIR grant will enable the firm to move into commercial instrument development and clinical trials.

Specific Technologies CEO Dr Paul Rhodes said: "We are grateful to NIAID for their indispensable support for our development of a new paradigm in microbiology diagnostics.

"In the case of TB culture, by combining detection with ID, our system has the potential to move culture outside of the BSL-3 reference laboratories to which TB culture is now confined. 

“Provided negative predictive power validates at an appropriately high level, we look forward to bringing TB culture to the Level 2 clinics that do not yet have it on hand."