Education And Debate

Inventing a new diagnostic test for vaginal infection

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6946.40 (Published 02 July 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:40
  1. T C O'Dowd,
  2. N Bourne
  1. Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Republic of Ireland University of Wales College of Cardiff, Cardiff CF1 3XA.
  • Accepted 3 March 1994

Bacterial vaginosis, which is underdiagnosed in clinical practice, has a characteristic fishy smell because of production of diamines. This smell is the basis of a visual rapid diagnostic test that is technically simple to perform. The test has been patented in Europe and America, and a licence agreement has been negotiated. This paper describes the process from idea to invention to patenting and licensing. The combined costs of research and patenting were met by a multinational company in return for rights to exploit the patented invention. The process has taken nine years and has needed clinical, scientific, legal, and commercial input to get the test to the marketplace.

About 5000 patents a year are registered by British inventors, but the Japanese company Hitachi registers 20 000 patents a year. Yet Japanese research shows that in the past few decades half the economically valuable inventions around the world originated in Britain.1 Since the withdrawal of the British Technology Group's monopoly of exploiting university research in 1986 many universities have accepted the responsibility of exploiting their own intellectual property. They now realise the commercial value of their intellectual property, and most have established offices of technology transfer, which focus on opportunities for industrial exploitation. The government's recent white paper on science and technology Realising our Potential further emphasises the importance of developing new technologies and discusses the various methods by which industry and academia might collaborate for the benefit of the economy.2 It is becoming more common for university research to lead to commercial products that have been exploited through the establishment of license agreements or have formed the basis for a new company. In this paper we describe our experience of inventing a rapid diagnostic test in response to a clinical need and taking it to the market.

The diagnostic test Clinical need for test

Vaginal …

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