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Published: 2023-05-17

Research idea resulted in innovative product – Xerum nominated for a prestigious prize

NEWS The spin-off company Xerum got off to an unusually fast start with its first product in connection with the pandemic. But starting and running a company was something new for researchers Mattias Forsell, Johan Normark and Julia Wigren Byström. Now they are nominated for the medical technology prize Medtech4Health Innovation Award 2023.

Text: Josefin Laestadius

With home sampling, you can reach people who do not want or cannot seek care, for example in sparsely populated areas

When the pandemic in March 2020 paralyzed the whole world, the research colleagues at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umeå University saw the need for antibody tests, to determine whether people had COVID-19 or not. Since it was a completely new virus that triggered the pandemic, there were no tests that could be used in the initial phase. The research was therefore completely rescheduled for COVID-19 and it was not long before a new product saw the light of day.

“We quickly developed an antibody test, which turned out to be one of the most sensitive on the market. We validated the test in collaboration with Region Västerbotten and it was then used in healthcare,” says Julia Wigren Byström, CEO of Xerum.

Behind the antibody test are Mattias Forsell, docent in immunology, Johan Normark, docent in infectious medicine and specialist doctor in infectious diseases - both principal investigators in Umeå Centre for Microbial Research, UCMR - and Julia Wigren Byström, biomedical analyst. Julia has many years of experience in clinical diagnostics and virus research, which has been a great asset in product development. At the same time, Mattias Forsell and Johan Normark have many years of experience and expertise in clinical immunology and virology, and Mattias Forsell's research focus has been antibodies against various viruses for over 20 years.

Started the company Xerum

The antibody test was initially a research product and it therefore became necessary to start a company to commercialize and be able to contribute to reliable testing during the pandemic. Then and there the idea of a spin-off company was born. The step from idea to utilization of the research was realized when the researchers contacted the Innovation Office during the summer of 2020.

“Entrepreneurship was completely new to us. The Innovation Office, Umeå University Holding and Umeå Biotech Incubator have meant a lot to the company getting this far,” says Julia Wigren Byström.

Since then, work with the company has progressed at record speed. During the development work, Xerum has received innovation advice, business coaching and financial support from various parts of the innovation support.

Kit for home testing - a product in demand

After the researchers developed the corona antibody test, the next step was to develop a simpler test method so that those who wanted to test themselves would not have to visit a health centre to provide a venous blood sample (taken in the armpit) for the antibody tests. It was important during the pandemic to be able to test many, despite restrictions and the lack of healthcare staff.

The solution was a kit for home testing where you instead prick your finger and drop some blood on a filter paper which you then send in by regular mail for analysis. The combination of a sensitive corona antibody test and simple sampling that can be performed at home proved to be a product in demand.

“With home sampling, you can reach people who do not want or cannot seek care, for example in sparsely populated areas. Parts of Sweden are sparsely populated, and many have several miles to the nearest sampling point. The same problem exists in many countries in the world.”

Product with great societal benefit

Xerum's test has, among other things, been used in most of the Public Health Agency's national surveys of antibody levels in the population in Sweden. The test is also used to monitor antibody levels in elderly people living in nursing homes around Sweden in a study at Umeå University. The results contribute to the basis for the Public Health Agency when they make decisions about when COVID-19 vaccine doses should be given to the elderly.

Do you have tips for others who want to turn their knowledge and research into a business idea?

“If you are starting a business for the first time, you must be prepared that it takes a lot of time to learn everything about running a business. Then, it is good that one person in the team takes on the role of entrepreneur and can drive the business idea forward. Take help from the Innovation Office or the Umeå Biotech Incubator, they have great knowledge of the innovation process and how to do the right things in the right order. Have fun, be curious and be ready to tackle challenges!”

The researchers continue to continuously develop the company's products.

“We are currently looking at how we can use everything we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and transfer it to other types of antibody tests. We see how our test can be used to detect other infectious diseases in a smarter way, for example hepatitis and Puumala virus infection.”

Xerum is nominated for the medical technology prize Medtech4Health Innovation Award 2023 as one of three finalists. The award aims, among other things, to highlight good examples of development and/or implementation of innovative medical technology in healthcare. On 23 May there will be an award ceremony in Gothenburg.

What does the nomination mean to you?

“It is great fun to be nominated for such a nice award and to get attention for all the hard work we have put in. The attention means a lot to our continued development. It is extra fun that it is a prize for patient benefit because that is something we are passionate about,” says Julia Wigren Byström.

For more information, please contact:

Julia Wigren Byström
Other position, laboratory technician
E-mail
Email
Johan Normark
Associate professor, consultant (attending) physician (on leave), associate professor, consultant (attending) physician, associate professor
E-mail
Email

Facts Xerum and the medicine technology prize

Xerum AB is a spin-off company from the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umeå University.
The company was founded in 2020 by Mattias Forsell, Johan Normark and Julia Wigren Byström.
Read more about Xerum and the Medtech4Health Innovation Award 2023.