New innovator: Allogen Biotech
Food contamination testing can be a time consuming and costly process for food producers sending samples away for analysis. But that could change with a new testing product being developed by biomedical engineers Ben Teeling and Derek Graydon of Allogen Biotech.
The partners hit on applying the sensor technology normally used in medical diagnostics to the food industry and have come up with a hand-held device that can test for contaminants accurately and quickly on site.
“From our market research we identified an opportunity in the wider food manufacturing and processing industries for a portable food contamination testing device that used biosensors rather than traditional testing methods,” Ben Teeling says.
“With rigorous new food labelling rules coming into force at the end of 2014, the testing of food to control levels of unwanted ingredients, for example traces of wheat in a gluten-free product, or contaminants is becoming ever more important.
“Food contamination is a big public health issue. In the United States alone, food related illnesses affect an estimated 76 million people every year.
“Our test will provide the same high level of accuracy as tests performed in outsourced labs and our technology,which is being patented and IP protected, leaps existing, old fashioned, testing systems by using medical diagnostics in a unique way.”
“The gold standard for testing in this area is ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and we are benchmarking our test against this,” Teeling says.
Allogen Biotech is based at the Synergy Centre at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, where the partners have come through its New Frontiers programme for high-potential entrepreneurs.
The company has worked closely with the Centre and with academics at the Institute to develop the new device.
The project has been supported by Enterprise Ireland which put € 50,000 into the company for a 10 per cent stake as part of its Competitive Start Fund initiative.
Allogen is now looking to raise around € 200,000 to bring its product to full commercialisation. Further testing in January 2013 will determine the time line to bring the product to market. However, all going well, Teeling is optimistic that it can be achieved within nine to months.
While final details of the product design have yet to be nailed down, Teeling says the device will be a little bigger and chunkier than a mobile phone but still easily handled.
The test information will be recorded on a single use cartridge. The cartridges will provide a recurring income for the company and a number of payment models are being considered.
The product will be targeted at the European and US food manufacturing sectors where there is already a high level of testing to detect contamination in the food production process.