Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious disease. It occurs when a blood clot forms within the deep veins of the limbs, most commonly the legs. If left untreated, half of these blood clots will travel to the lungs, forming a pulmonary embolism – which is a leading cause of death.
Each year, DVT occurs in some one in 1,000 people in the UK; its frequency increases with age and other risk factors, such as cancer, trauma (including major surgery), obesity and pregnancy. No wonder, given its seriousness, that GPs are quick to refer suspected DVT cases to hospital.
Reducing the burden on the NHS
But there’s a problem, which OxyClot, a medical device developed by a team within the Oxford Biodesign programme, aims to solve. At present, inadequate screening methods mean that only 15% of referrals to hospitals have a confirmed DVT. These unnecessary referrals cost the NHS more than £100m annually.
“Following a phase of prototyping, we developed an inexpensive, fast and easy-to-use technology to diagnose DVT at the GP to eliminate unnecessary hospital referrals,” says Dr Tristan Whitmarsh, one of the key members of the OxyClot team. “Our approach is related to a technique known as air plethysmography, but takes an entirely new approach. It works by quantifying how well the blood drains from the calf when raising the leg through a passive leg raise procedure. This innovative technology can easily be used by GPs and nurses. It can reliably screen for DVTs before a referral to hospital.”
OxyClot was formed under the aegis of the Oxford Biodesign programme, which trained Tristan and his colleagues to identify unmet clinical needs through clinical immersion in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Working alongside Tristan, who is now a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, were Dr Ahmed Elzein Mohamed (a clinical radiology trainee at Oxford University Hospitals) and Dr Piers Milner, now an Innovation Advisor at Imperial College Health Partners. Despite their present geographical separation, each continues to be involved in OxyClot, which bagged first place at the #StartedinOxford Demo Night in June, 2018 and was then runner-up at the Pitching for Success event at Venturefest Oxford 2018.
“We are in the process of commercialising our technology through licensing,” says Tristan. “This will not be confined to DVT: discussion with vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists shows that our technology could also be used to assess the outcome of vascular surgery procedures such as angioplasty. We have a pending patent and have received plenty of interest. It’s an exciting time.”
Exciting, yes – and the OxyClot team say that Oxford’s support has been crucial. As they put it: “Being within the University of Oxford allowed us to work closely with Oxford University Innovations (OUI) who provided support with business plan writing, pitching, grant writing, and contacting potential companies. There are always many talks by members of the university, and the seminars of the Oxford Medical CE Marking Forum were particularity useful for understanding the complexities of CE marking medical devices. As a healthcare technology we also interacted a lot with the Oxfordshire CCG, who were extremely helpful to help us understand how a technology is eventually adopted in the UK healthcare system. We also joined Oxford Foundry which became our office and meeting place. The various talks given there by early stage start-ups were very motivational and enlightening. There was a real entrepreneurial spirit there which fuelled our enthusiasm.”