Stellenbosch University startup BioCODE receives R7 million second grant from UTF

Stellenbosch University startup BioCODE receives R7 million second grant from UTF

The University Technology Fund (UTF) recently made their second investment in BioCODE, a Stellenbosch University (SU) and Innovus startup that focuses on developing health and disease risk screening solutions. The UTF contributed R5 million and SU another R2 million as part of their partnership with the Fund. This investment will assist BioCODE to fund its current development of a rapid inflammation test that can be used as a screening and monitoring tool for inflammation and inflammatory conditions.  

Biocode evolved through biosensor research collaboration between the Physiological Sciences Department and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

The three researchers and co-founders of BioCODE are Prof Resia Pretorius, head of Stellenbosch University's Physiological Sciences Department in the Faculty of Science (Managing Director); Prof Anna-Mart Engelbrecht, a professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences at SU; and Prof Willie Perold, an electronic engineer in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. With Este Burger (operations and development) and research scientist Simoné Turner, former students of these researchers, BioCODE is making rapid progress towards putting their technology in the market.

Says Pretorius: "We are currently developing a rapid test to detect the inflammatory molecule Serum Amyloid A (SAA) in a drop of blood. SAA and other inflammatorily molecules increase when a person has inflammation. Cardiovascular disease Type-2 diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute COVID and even phenom-type long COVID have increased inflammatory molecules like SAA in circulation. These inflammatory molecules cause blood to become sticky, and the result is a heart attack, deep vein thrombosis or even a stroke."

With the BioCODE rapid test of SAA, they can detect the molecule fast enough in blood for early risk identification. Pretorius says SAA has long been investigated as a predictor for cancer risk and as a prognostic marker. “Elevated SAA level also directly correlates with poor prognosis and tumour aggressiveness in various cancers. Although SAA is mainly produced in the liver, it has recently been demonstrated that cancer tissue also expressed SAA.

The BioCODE team have collected and analysed the blood of many control and inflammatory patients, and with the data sets, they can set the appropriate specifications for the rapid tests. According to Pretorius, it is as easy as a COVID antibody or HIV rapid test. It consists of a small cassette that takes a finger-prick blood sample, and together with a mobile reader application that scans the results, it quantifies the concentration of SAA in the blood.

“Anyone can do a test for SAA, and results are available within minutes,” says Pretorius. “The results are integrated with our Internet of Things (IoT) platform that provides an interface to monitor patient results. Our goal is that the rapid test will be the first of many disease risk screening tools that BioCODE will develop. Ultimately, we want to lead the biotech movement in South Africa towards accessible preventative health care, and we want to empower people to take charge of their own health.”

Anita Nel, Chief Director of Innovus, Stellenbosch University’s Technology Transfer and Innovation Division, said she is immensely proud of BioCODE’s progress to date. “From small beginnings, this team has worked hard and is now nearly ready to bring their innovation to the market. Innovus Technology Transfer and Stellenbosch University LaunchLab have been working very closely with the team and supported them in protecting their intellectual property, setting up the company, forming partnerships, and raising investment and funding. No wonder that the UTF recognised their invention as a worthwhile investment.”

"The future of medicine will primarily rely on prevention rather than cures. BioCode is at the forefront of preventative medicine making it an investment with global potential," says Wayne Stocks, partner at Stocks & Strauss, the appointed fund managers of the UTF.