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From concept to award-winning product

Bactest’s Martina Palmer charts the development of Speedy Breedy, a portable, sensitive, precision respirometer, which detects and monitors microbial activity by measuring pressure changes. It started out as the brain child of two ex-Unilever microbiologists and has come a long way since then.

Speedy Breedy, originally called Gemini, was first conceived in 2001. Bactest’s founder, Derek Price, and a colleague came up with the ingenious idea to test for bacteria by recording the pressure changes resulting from the production and consumption of gases (due to microbial respiration) within a sealed chamber. They envisaged a small portable instrument that could be used in a point of care setting to rapidly test for microbial contamination in blood samples. The idea was to test samples immediately in the hospital ward and therefore to significantlyreduce the time required to detect a potentially life threatening infection. The instrument needed to be very simple to operate so that it could be used by busy medical support staff without the need for complicated specialist training.

ImageThe founders invested time and money in the project and government backing was gratefully received in the form of two SMART grants. The core patent was filed in 2002 for a novel method of pressure sensing on a technology platform. With the help of Angel investors, almost £600k was raised between April 2006 and June 2009 to take the concept forward. A prototype was developed and used to test for septicaemia at Papworth Hospital and this was further validated against a large laboratory instrument at Addenbrookes Hospital. However, it quickly became clear that getting a new device approved for diagnostic use is not for the faint-hearted. This process needs experience, time, a large number of clinical papers and validations and, critically, lots of money, none of which Bactest had at the end of 2009.

In 2010 Annie Brooking joined the team as CEO to restructure the business and raise funds for further development. Bactest closed a £900k investment round in 2011, including a large injection of capital from the Low Carbon Innovation Fund. Annie realised that a strong product identity was needed and came up with the memorable name ‘Speedy Breedy’. She also gave the product its very distinctive purple colour. Annie hired a multi-disciplinary team in order to get Speedy Breedy ready for the market. Being a veteran entrepreneur and having brought 17 products to market, including in the healthcare field, Annie recognised Speedy Breedy’s huge potential in other, much less regulated markets and proceeded to focus on the water industry.

Within a few months proprietary software was developed to complement the instrument by enabling visualisation of data and data management. The design was improved and UK suppliers were found to make all the component parts and to build Speedy Breedy. Even today, only the Speedy Breedy keypad is imported from China, all other parts are proudly manufactured and assembled in the UK. The instrument was officially launched in October 2012 and selling began in earnest in summer 2013. In support of the sales effort a huge amount of development work was undertaken to increase the product portfolio and detect a wide range of different organisms (bacteria and yeasts). This led to Speedy Breedy being able to selectively detect most of the organisms commonly found to contaminate materials in many application areas. This allowed it to offer a portable testing product for different markets, most notably food. Today there are 13 selective media (for detection of both aerobic and anaerobic organisms), as well as one general medium. Speedy Breedy can readily and selectively test for E.coli and Coliforms, Salmonella, Listeria and lactic acid bacteria amongst others in hours instead of days.

Using samples taken by swabs, Speedy Breedy can even be used to test decontamination processes and hygiene in work place environments, such as food processing plants. In late 2013/early 2014 Campden BRI conducted several trials and independently verified that Speedy Breedy can not only be used to test water samples, but also the quality of foods by detecting the most common organisms found in milk, meat, orange juice, beer and ice cream.

Around this time Speedy Breedy started to pick up its first awards. We won the Open Innovation Forum on Food and Drink at the University of Cambridge in October 2013, sponsored by the Institute of Manufacturing. In May 2014 we were featured in Forbes magazine, we received the BlueTech® Research Innovation Award and our Benelux distributor, VC999, received a Certificate for Innovative Technology at VIV Europe 2014. In September we went on to win thecategory innovation in the 2014 Food and Drink Federation awards. In total we have accumulated 10 awards and recognitions for Speedy Breedy in the last year. Our proudest moment so far has been being shortlisted and eventually winning the prestigious Telegraph Festival of Business’s SME of the Year award for 2014, beating hundreds of excellent applicants and five amazing shortlisted businesses.

How does it work?
Speedy Breedy uses sealed vessels containing growth medium in gelatine capsulesSpeedy Breedy uses sealed vessels containing growth medium in gelatine capsules. When the liquid sample or powdered/solid sample plus sterile water is transferred into the vessel, the capsules dissolve and create the perfect nutritious environment for bacteria or yeasts. At the same time Speedy Breedy heats up to a pre-programmed temperature (depending on the organism, usually around 36°C) and themagnetic rotors inside the vessels turn to help dissolve the capsules and homogenise the broth. As the microorganisms grow and respire they use and/or produce gases which leads to a change in pressure. That pressure change is then recorded by Speedy Breedy and tells the user that the target organism has been found. The faster this pressure change is detected, the greater the contamination in the original sample.

One of the greatest benefits of Speedy Breedy is that it can be used at the point of sampling thereby substantially reducing the time required for testing from the current 3-to-14-days in a laboratory to a few hours. This is not just our opinion, it matches the experiences of our customers too. Speedy Breedy is a lot faster than traditional methods and we have seen in many trials that it is just as accurate and reliable. One of the best features of Speedy Breedy is that it is very easy to use and does not require pre-processing of samples; you simply put in your sample, choose a protocol and press go. It is that simple. Speedy Breedy is an excellent addition to product or process testing in situations where the time to achieve a test result impacts on business costs and logistics. Many customers use Speedy Breedy as an adjunct to laboratory tests in order to mitigate risk and streamline processes.

Working in a start-up means hard graft, long hours, supportive investors and a strong, dedicated team. However, it is through listening to our customers and distributors that we have been able to improve our products and in exchange we are dedicated to excellent customer and sales support.

Martina Palmer is Technical Support Manager at Bactest, St John’s Innovation Centre, Cowley Road, Cambridge CB4 0WS
Email: Tel: +44 (0) 1223 422312 Web:

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