Mycobacteria are among the world's most widely distributed pathogens: globally, one in three people are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, while infections with M. bovis cause bovine TB, a disease of major veterinary significance. Notably, mycobacteria have evolved a relatively sedate lifestyle, typically establishing long-lasting quiescent infections only one in 100 patients with M. tuberculosis infections, for example, develops active disease. Similarly, mycobacteria are typically slow-growing and difficult to propagate in culture, hindering efforts to diagnose TB and to characterise drug resistance profiles.
In 2013, Dr Tim Bull and Dr Kai Hilpert discovered a series of chemical compounds able to enhance the growth of mycobacteria in culture. With funding from the St George's Enterprise Team and the Technology Strategy Board’s Small Business Research Initiative, they have been able to further characterise these growth-promoting activities, which have the potential to halve the time needed for analysis.
The pair have established a spinout company, TiKa Diagnostics Ltd to support further development and commercialisation of their compound, which could transform diagnosis of TB and analysis of drug resistance. Trials for diagnosis of veterinary and human mycobacterial infections have shown TiKa products can provide significant improvements in recovery and growth times of M. tuberculosis from humans, M.avium subspecies paratuberculosis from cattle and humans and M. bovis from cattle and wildlife including UK badgers, African buffalo and even rhinoceros. They are marketing and have already sold TiKa isolation kits to a range of researchers around the world.