A Swansea-based start-up has developed a first generation of products that will predict whether a person has or is likely to develop a serious lung condition.

PulmonIR Ltd, the company behind the technology, is the first in the world to have developed a commercial instrument of this type specifically designed for respiratory applications. Its founders say that it will lead to quicker diagnoses of a range of lung conditions, fewer unnecessary procedures, and better long-term outcomes for patients.

The device is a clinical-grade infrared spectrometer that uses light to analyse sputum collected from patients. The data gathered from the sample will be used by GPs and respiratory experts to decide the next steps – for example, whether or not to refer a patient for radiation-based CT scanning to confirm the presence of lung cancer before invasive procedures such as a bronchoscopy are carried out.

According to the British Lung Foundation, somebody in the UK dies from lung disease every five minutes. The organisation says that these types of illnesses are responsible for more than 700,000 hospital admissions and over six million inpatient bed-days in the UK each year. In economic terms, lung disease in the UK costs a staggering £11 billion a year.

Dr Mark Bowman, CEO of PulmonIR Ltd, with the new product

Dr Mark Bowman, PulmonIR’s CEO and co-founder, said, “Lung cancer is a major focus for us, but there is a whole range of other conditions that are capable of being spotted by our device. This early detection can lead to significantly improved prognoses for patients. It will also make for more informed and more focussed medical interventions and treatment which, in turn, will save the NHS money. We expect the number of unnecessary exploratory procedures such as CT scans and bronchoscopies to be greatly reduced because of the information that our technology will provide. According to our estimates, for each patient referred unnecessarily our technology could save around 90% of the cost to the NHS.”

PulmonIR was founded in 2016 as a spin-out of Swansea University. The company’s device is the culmination of more than 10 years of research carried out by Professor Paul Lewis, head of the Respiratory Diagnostics Group at Swansea University and co-founder of PulmonIR. The company has received a number of grants, and its work has been backed by an investor group that includes IP Group plc, the Development Bank of Wales, and the Swansea University Innovation Fund.

This latest milestone has been reached with the help of funding from Innovate UK, and close collaboration with Welsh suppliers ITERATE Design + Innovation Ltd and Blackwood Embedded Solutions Ltd. Pyreos Ltd, an Edinburgh based developer of specialist infrared sensors for spectrometry and other applications, was also an essential partner in delivering this project.

Andrew Wallace, CEO of Pyreos said, “Pyreos was delighted to be able to supply PulmonIR with spectrometer components suitable for integration into their device. Demonstrating the utility of Pyreos technologies in clinical applications is important to our business and we look forward to assisting PulmonIR in future as their range of products expands.”

Dr Bowman added, “The next key stage for us is to secure CE marking for the device, which will require the collation of extensive clinical evidence of the effectiveness of the device in practice. At the same time, we will be working to scale-up the manufacturing process and to reduce the price of the device as far as possible to maximise the likelihood of the system being adopted by the NHS and international providers of public healthcare.”

PulmonIR expects to raise new venture capital finance to support this next phase and will be applying for further public funding from Innovate UK and the Welsh Government.

Currently based at Institute of Life Science in Swansea, PulmonIR plans to take up new laboratory and office space so that development work can continue. In the longer term, the team’s sights are set on international markets, with plans to export to territories including the USA, the EU27, and China.