When Dr Martin Scurr founded ImmunoServ during the pandemic, he saw a place in the world for a contract research company specialising in the immunology sector – an operation with its own R&D pipeline for developing a range of authoritative tests, measuring immune responses to viruses, bacteria, and cancer.
15 months on, that vision shared by ImmunoServ’s newly appointed CEO Dr. James Hindley has created an enterprise that’s uniquely positioned to perform both pre-clinical and clinical contract research in the immunology and cancer immunology fields – securing significant funding from Innovate UK and already providing world-class testing on behalf of the Cardiff & Vale Health Board.
From a standing start, this remarkable Cardiff-based company is becoming increasingly acknowledged as ‘The Immunology Research Partner’ of choice – and respected as a glowing presence in CCR’s highly valuable MedTech sector.
Given this phenomenal ‘out of the blocks’ performance, in a sector where industry acclaim can often elude for many years, we caught up with James and Martin to discover their own motivations and explore their journey to date …
Accelerating innovation through bespoke laboratory services
“Our main purpose is to provide bespoke immunology-focused laboratory services that deliver high quality data for industrial or academic partners” explains James, a seasoned biotech entrepreneur with top-tier experience of managing several EU and UK collaborative innovation projects. “We know that being ahead and staying ahead means being an active leader in innovation. That’s why we have invested and continue to invest in world leading R&D, ensuring that we can partner with the best in the field – accelerating innovation to bring cutting edge products and services to the market.”
Large parts of the ImmunoServ work is currently geared towards the pandemic – perhaps unsurprisingly given that Martin (a senior scientist at Cardiff University with over 13 years in the immunology field) is lead investigator on an SBRI Innovate UK-funded project to develop a Covid-19 combined antibody and T cell test that’s now being used clinically to manage at-risk patient groups, with work progressing to further increase scale for the general population.
Two T Cell Immunologists sharing a Spirit of Partnership
But that C19 emphasis only tells part of the ImmunoServ story. “James and I are both T cell immunologists with PhD’s in T cell immunology and in the past we have both dedicated a major part of our research to cancer” explains Martin. “My own work has brought a particular focus on measuring T cell responses in cancer patients receiving immunotherapy, which has meant leading projects that initiated links with industrial partners: expert collaborators with the capability to translate our research into commercially available novel immunotherapeutics for clinical use – and that spirit of collaboration is a key pillar of the ImmunoServ philosophy.”
James takes up that story:
“We know that T cells can generate a response to a range of different diseases and viruses and right now we are applying that knowledge to the pandemic. T cell response acts a useful readout for defining immunity – acting as part of our body’s natural memory bank and surveillance system, along with our B cells that produce antibodies. T cells can activate to eradicate disease from your body, but measuring the cells is notoriously difficult as they require laborious experiments in the lab.
“ImmunoServ has simplified this method to make it much easier to test on a broader population – taking far more blood samples, analysing T cell response in a much greater throughput, accurately identifying the cell response to the vaccine and ultimately measuring the levels of immunity.”
Cutting-edge collaborations to bring T cell-testing to the masses
That appetite for partnership has seen ImmunoServ collaborate with Cardiff University to scale – recruiting from the University’s testing study and using funding from both UK Government and Innovate UK to pioneer a world-first home test using finger prick blood to measure T cell response, with 300 donors participating across the UK.
Martin explains the difference this is making in helping fight the pandemic:
“We manufacture the kits in-house, use the Royal Mail priority postal service to send them out – then measure both the T cell response rate and the antibody response at the same time, using that single finger prick sample. Anyone over the age of 18 can be part of this study, simply by registering on our website. We’re already oversubscribed – the number of volunteers who have come forward in this pandemic has been incredible!
“We hoped that people would be interested in knowing their immunity levels and would want to be able to test that at home. Our development moves testing beyond PCR and lateral flow testing – we’re addressing the situation after the infection has ‘gone’, letting people know their levels of immunity protection if they encounter the virus again. In effect, we’re bringing T cell testing to the masses.”
Pioneering progress, from Covid to Cancer and beyond.
James brought the conversation to a close by stressing the wider work of ImmunoServ:
“Covid isn’t our core, but it has had to become that for the past year or so. Going forward we have ongoing work focused on cancer – and we want to apply some of our current learnings to the way we test cancer patients taking immunotherapy. We’re involved in a clinical trial preventing relapse to cancer – and we’re also working on a national clinical trial preventing relapse of bowel cancer, measuring a patient’s immune response to their tumour and also those responses in preventing tumour growth returning.
“The possibilities for what we do are virtually endless – as an example, we’re developing a very similar test that will act as a warning system for influenza – and we want to make people more aware that we are here and able to do this work. We’re building our vision in this region, with ambitions to become a major employer of high skill and high-tech jobs – and acknowledged globally as a leader in immunology research that impacts positively on the lives and wellbeing of people here in the region and world-wide”.