02 April 2020

Connecting Lateral Flow to the 21st Century.

By Nathan Rigby

Cardiff-based Bond Digital Health was founded in 2016. Their technology was created with the intent of being a digital health platform to fill the information void between GP visits for patients with chronic illnesses. Three years later and they’ve had a distinct change in direction, focusing purely on connecting the lateral flow diagnostics space.

To find out more about Bond, I spoke to Phil Groom, Commercial Director, and Viktoriya Agova, Marketing Manager, to hear how they arrived at where they are today and what their plans are for the future.
 

"We didn't really know what we'd got into."

 

Like many tech startups, Bond pivoted a number of times. They began with an innovative technological solution – a medical-grade connectivity platform. The next question was what, or who, do we connect with it?

Their first client was leading lateral flow provider Mologic whose CSO, Paul Davis, is one of the founding fathers of lateral flow technology. Mologic wanted a platform for their test designed for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients to self-monitor their condition and detect biomarkers which could potentially show signs of a life-limiting lung attack.

Lateral flow wasn’t the initial aim, and Phil readily admits that they “didn’t know what they’d gotten into” when they entered the multi-billion pound lateral flow space. More lateral flow work followed after the Mologic project with businesses like Canada based Sona Nanotech.

Bond continued to explore other options outside of lateral flow to see what the appetite could be for their service. That was until attending the 2018 Advanced Lateral Flow Conference in San Diego.



After significant uptake at this event, Bond knew that they’d found their niche: the £6.7B lateral flow market. When they told potential customers what they could do, they were amazed by how frequently people were saying, “Wow. This is what we’ve been waiting for”.

Dave Taylor, Co-Founder and COO of Bond, said: “You could say our approach was somewhat unusual. We started with an innovative idea but we didn’t rush into building a final product. We started asking questions like: “Who would pay for it?”, “How many would pay for it?”, and “Would it make a difference in their lives and businesses?” Only then we could start measuring the opportunity and capitalising on the need we had helped create.”

So, Bond are digital connectivity lateral flow specialists. Bond are now “totally, totally committed to the lateral flow sector” according to Phil.
 

"It’s a massive market with a huge unmet need. We’ve been welcomed into the community."

 

So, with that focus, Bond had a clear mission: to transform the well established lateral flow technology from a simple point-of-care test to a digitally connected ecosystem with data at its heart.

What’s fascinating is just how little new digital technology has been introduced. Whilst the capabilities and sophistication of lateral flow tests are constantly evolving, the digital infrastructure around them is still severely lacking. Even today, people are still recording the results of lateral flow tests with pen and paper. Surprising, given how widely used these tests are and how digitised modern healthcare is. 

Bond has invested over a quarter of a million pounds into their regulatory and software compliance processes both in Europe and the US – one of the biggest hurdles to medically focused businesses.

According to Viktoriya, their biggest competition is the status quo.

As the only digital company servicing the market at the moment, it’s a choice between sticking with pen and paper, or embracing the fast approaching digital future, driven by our solution. Given that choice, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the business and the future looks bright. 

"It is state of the art to have this technology and if you don't have it, you're basically already missing out”

 

To digress slightly, the importance of collecting standardised, high quality data is now at the heart of many tech companies’ roadmaps across the global medical and life science markets. 

It should be a priority to collect data as the capability to interpret it is already there with AI and machine learning quickly becoming the norm. It’s not an unrealistic expectation that the data these tests produce could become more valuable than the tests themselves.

Whilst Bond are a tech provider, their app, cloud and dashboard platform means that their future will reflect this belief; using the data they collect to help their customers gain better insight than ever into diversifying their revenue strategy.
 

"What’s the most expensive lateral flow test? The one that doesn’t work."

 

The data-centric future of lateral flow and other diagnostic tests facilitates a far more efficient allocation of resources. Phil gave a really interesting example of when data, collected from the same lateral flow test, could provide a full picture of a situation when rolled out across communities such as in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He continued:

You've got all sorts of different climates within that area. And a client's got the same batch of tests across, a couple of thousand square kilometers, but they're failing in one area or they're getting lots of invalid or negative results in another.

If you're mapping this in real time and then you can plug the environment in, which is easy, you could say, right, we've got a hotspot in East Angola where we're getting loads of invalid tests.

Then you can look at the data. In one area you've got 90% humidity. So, the test isn't running.

Well why aren’t tests working in Southern Sudan? There, there’s zero humidity and 45 degrees heat so the test isn’t even starting to work.

You could get then another hotspot of invalid data where the environment is perfect, the batch number is perfect, but the tests are failing so, okay, let’s send somebody out there. You send somebody out there and realise they're doing the tests wrong and haven't been trained properly.”

This level of insight propels lateral flow into the 21st century and makes an already cost effective tech even more powerful and exciting.
 

What’s next for Bond?

 

This potential is seeing Bond scale up, fast. Having just moved office to support their growing team, they already have plans underway to expand internationally. They have some exciting projects in the pipeline, including a novel direct antigen test for Coronavirus, and are approaching the finalisation of a Series A funding round.

With a diverse client portfolio, focusing on lateral flow gives them exposure to a wide range of industries and opportunities.

It’s an exciting time for Bond and the wider lateral flow market. Watch this space to see how far this new, connected ecosystem takes it.

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By Nathan Rigby

Nathan Rigby works globally, specialising in technical and non-commercial positions in in-vitro diagnostics. He enjoys exploring the humanitarian benefits of IVD, such as within the development of new rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases.

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