Omega eyes Bill Gates HIV-Aids test update

Microsoft's Bill Gates behind the test developed by Omega.''Picture: Getty Images
Microsoft's Bill Gates behind the test developed by Omega.''Picture: Getty Images
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MEDICAL testing kit maker Omega Diagnostics is poised to update investors before the New Year on the roll-out of an HIV-Aids test funded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The Alva-based firm has been working with the Burnet Institute in Australia to develop a disposable test – called Visitect CD4 – that can be used in African villages and other remote locations to diagnose HIV-Aids without the need for medics to carry heavy equipment.

In May, Omega raised £4 million through a share placing to fund the commercialisation of the diagnostic test.

Now the firm expects to update the City before the end of the calendar year on its progress in bringing the test to market.

Omega chief executive Andrew Shepherd told The Scotsman: “We’ve got sites in Australia, the UK and the United States ready to evaluate the tests.

“Then we have field evaluations lined up in India, Mozambique and South Africa.”

Shepherd, who founded the company in 1987 and floated it on the Alternative Investment Market in 2006, dismissed suggestions rivals could be able to copy the test once it is released.

“It’s a very complex process behind a very simple test,” he said.

“It has taken the Burnet Institute six years to develop the test with Bill Gates’ money. Plus we have patent protection, most recently granted in the US.”

Chairman David Evans expects that both the HIV-Aids kit and the development of tests that can run on equipment maker Immuno-Diagnostics Systems’ Isys device to “deliver significant shareholder value in the next financial year”.

Equipment has now been installed at Omega’s Alva plant to produce chemicals for the tests in preparation for the Isys launch. Shepherd’s comments came as Omega today posted a 14 per cent rise in adjusted half-year pre-tax profits for the six months to 30 September to £430,000 thanks to cost-cutting after sales were flat at £5.6m.

Finance director Kieron Harbinson said: “Our headcount stayed the same but we lost some senior posts and hired people in more junior roles. There were no job losses at our facilities in Scotland.”

Revenues from the firm’s food intolerance tests rose by 9 per cent to £2.3m, with its “Food Detective” tests selling well in Australia, Brazil and Poland, while its “Genarrayt” brand continued to sell well in Spain.

Sales of allergy tests edged ahead by 2 per cent to £2.1m, but turnover from infectious disease products dropped by 12 per cent to £1.3m, partly due to a decline in bacteria testing.

Keith Redpath, an analyst at house broker FinnCap, said: “Omega is significantly undervalued at this share price. The near-term focus of investors is undoubtedly the commercial rollout of Visitect CD4, on which we expect further news before the end of this year.”