According to the World Health Organisation, there is no reliable, cost-effective screening test to detect the potentially life-threatening condition in pregnancy pre-eclampsia. As a result, those at greatest risk can't be easily identified and offered treatment.
In 2014, however, this could change with the launch of a breakthrough screening test from Cork-based life sciences company Metabolomic Diagnostics.
The company's test is based on research carried out at University College Cork into the predictive diagnosis of pre-eclampsia in early pregnancy using a unique set of biomarkers.
The test, on a blood sample, is conducted at 15 weeks. Metabolomic Diagnostics has licensed the technology from UCC on an exclusive global basis and is currently in the final stages of preparing the test for commercial launch.
"Our pre-eclampsia diagnostic technology has the potential to transform patient care by providing doctors with accurate information early on in a pregnancy," says company co-founder and technology entrepreneur Charles Garvey.
“One of the problems with the condition is that it often does not manifest itself until the second half of a pregnancy but it is doing damage quietly in the background.
“On a worldwide scale pre-eclampsia kills around 80,000 women and half a million babies a year, with the highest proportion of deaths occurring in countries with little or no pre-natal care.
“It is our hope to ultimately create a test that would be deployable in the most difficult conditions – where refrigeration is not readily available for example. In the US around $23 billion is spent annually on pre-natal care and one of the biggest costs is monitoring for pre-eclampsia.”
Metabolomic Diagnostics, which is based in a lab in Little Island formerly owned by Pfizer, was set up just over two years ago and currently employs four people.
It has just closed its first round of venture capital funding having raised €1.5 million, and employment at the company is set to rise to eight people over the next few months.
Garvey says bringing this type of technology to the marketplace is hugely expensive, and he estimates early investment costs at between €2-3 million. This was funded through sweat equity with some support from Enterprise Ireland. The company also secured funding under a €6 million European research funding initiative to work as part of a consortium investigating novel blood-borne biomarkers for disease prediction.
The company’s focus now is on the final testing and validation of its product which will be sold in kit form on international markets through partnerships with laboratories. According to Garvey, this is the first of a number of tests it is planning to launch using its biomarker technology to detect other problems in pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and foetal growth restriction.
– OLIVE KEOGH