New blood test could improve early tuberculosis diagnosis

A new blood test to detect early tuberculosis (TB) infection is being developed using research expertise from the University of Leicester, with the potential to save thousands of lives.

A clinical study undertaken at the Leicester NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) has led to the discovery of a 20-gene signature expressed in blood by patients with TB, even before they develop symptoms of the disease. 

Together, these 20 genes represent a pattern of immune responses that are specific to TB. An exclusive licence provided by BioASTER to a commercial partner is driving development of a new clinical biomarker that is based the 20-gene signature, bringing the possibility of better TB diagnostics a step closer to realisation.  

Dr Pranab Haldar Clinical Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester and lead clinical investigator in the research said: “This is a great achievement for us in Leicester. New diagnostic tools are urgently needed in TB to improve early identification of the disease so that treatment can be started quickly to stop the spread of infection within communities. 

“As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global health burden from TB is projected to rise for several years. COVID has significantly impacted upon the running of TB control services, which has led to delayed diagnosis and more community transmission .The need for new diagnostics to support TB control has never been greater.

“Working with our partners across healthcare, academia and industry we have developed a new blood test that is to be commercially developed, and we hope will contribute to patient care in the near future.”

Nathalie Garcon, Chief Scientific Officer of BIOASTER said: “The signature of this licensing agreement demonstrates the capacity of BIOASTER, in collaboration with its academic and industrial partners, to deliver biomarkers of added medical value in tuberculosis from research phase to industrial development.” 

The clinical study was developed and delivered by an international collaboration between the University of Leicester, the Francis Crick Institute and the BIOASTER Technology Research Institute, and published in Nature Communications (2018).

An estimated two billion people worldwide have been infected with TB, and every year more than one million people lose their lives from the disease.