Sheffield company leads the way in chlamydia testing among young people

20 May 2013

A fast-growing Sheffield company leading the way chlamydia tests are carried out among young people is set for further expansion.

Preventx works with the NHS across England to provide an integrated online testing service for the sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Preventx’s turnover has roughly doubled year on year since its launch just five years ago, and profits shot up by 37 per cent last year partly thanks to a move to bring lab testing it previously sub-contracted in-house. 

All testing and diagnostic services are undertaken at the Sheffield BioIncubator building, in Leavygreave Road, where the company has recently increased its office and laboratory space and installed additional testing equipment to develop new services and increase its workforce.  Support with the growth is being provided by Creative Sheffield, through the South Yorkshire Sector Growth Enhancement Programme which is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs but most people who have it do not notice any symptoms.  If untreated, infection can sometimes spread to other parts of the body and lead to serious health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

All 16 to 24-year-olds can get free and confidential chlamydia tests as part of the NHS’s National Chlamydia Screening Programme and many regions have chosen to commission Preventx to provide the online service to young people.

Essentially, young people log on to the Preventx-run website dedicated to chlamydia testing www.freetest.me and enter their postcode to see if they are eligible for a free test.

A kit is immediately sent out to the patient who collects a urine or swab sample which is then returned to Preventx’s laboratory. Once the sample is returned, people can track its progress before they get their results

Due to repeated requests from clients, Preventx recently launched a new ‘offline’ test kit service, called SmartKits, which is now being used across local sexual health services in participating areas. 

During 2013, Preventx expects to send out just under 80,000 test kits, and complete up to 65,000 tests. Tests returning positive results average about seven per cent and patients are signposted to treatment services. 

The testing is backed-up by an integrated diagnostic service which feeds back extensive data to the NHS to allow managers to target and tailor services. 

Preventx’s technical director Tim Alston said www.freetest.me has a proven track record of saving the NHS time and money.  A total of 75 per cent of test kits the company sends out are returned with samples, which is considerably higher than other testing channels. 

Tim said:  “We’re reaching a demographic which has historically been hard to reach. Young people are used to ordering services and goods online and research has shown that under-25s prefer to test at home using a sleek and user-friendly experience they can trust. 

“Because we specialise we can provide results usually within 24 to 48 hours, and speed is always one of the key areas in the overwhelming positive feedback we get.” 

And, reflecting on Preventx’s overall approach, Tim added:  “Our value and core innovation is in the integrated and streamlined nature of the online service. It’s something nobody has been able to compete with and we’re very proud of it.” 

Tim, 29, who graduated with a first-class software engineering degree from University of Sheffield, launched Preventx with Devon-based business partner Neil Cooper in 2008.  Initially the company worked with primary care trusts (PCTs) in the Devon and Cornwall area before winning more similar contracts across England. It currently has contracts in 60 PCT or local authority areas as commissioning arrangements change.   

Preventx also provides a private test service via www.test.me which currently accounts for about five per cent of its total chlamydia tests.

Preventx aims to win more NHS contracts as hundreds of young people wanting a chlamydia test from their site have to be turned away.  It wants to expand the STIs it tests for and, long-term, perhaps expand testing to include certain cancers.

Creative Sheffield is helping Preventx to submit a patent application via attorneys Harrison Goddard Foote for a new system of testing and managing patients. The organisation is also providing support with funding applications and creating business, academic and public sector connections.  In addition, Creative Sheffield is helping to recruit candidates for work placements who will be joining Tim, laboratory director Ryan Kinsella, also a University of Sheffield graduate, and three part-time assistants shortly. Preventx also plans to take on a new member of staff on the online marketing side plus a full-time programmer.      

Tim said:  “As we branch into other areas and add to our team, the support from Creative Sheffield is proving extremely valuable.”

Philippa Hedley, Creative Sheffield’s Sector Growth Manager in Healthcare Technologies, added: “It’s fantastic to see a young entrepreneur who graduated in Sheffield utilise the excellent facilities available here and deliver such impressive results which are making a real contribution to improving public health.”   

Creative Sheffield is part of Sheffield City Council and is the city’s economic development function, with business growth its core activity. It is funded by Sheffield City Council and is a partner in the South Yorkshire Sector Growth Enhancement Programme (SYSGEP) that is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Yorkshire and The Humber ERDF Programme 2007-13.

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

Photograph show Tim Alston, technical director of Preventx with one of the company's free chlamydia test kits.

For more information about Preventx, visit www.preventx.com, email info@preventx.com or call 0333 344 4452.

Media contact at Preventx: Tim Alston at tim@preventx.com or on 0773 242 9112

For more information about Creative Sheffield/SYSGEP contact Laura Wheatley on 0114 223 2377 or at laura.wheatley@sheffield.gov.uk

The European Regional Development Fund Programme is managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government on behalf of a local partnership including the National Government, European Commission and local bodies. The programme has €583 million from the European Regional Development Fund to invest by 2013. Further information about the ERDF Programme in Yorkshire and The Humber, including information about the projects that are receiving ERDF Investment, is available at www.gov.uk/browse/business/funding-debt/european-regional-development-funding

Additional media contact: Deborah Wain on 07903 466228 or at deborah@capitalbmedia.co.uk or Kate Betts on 01226 766900 or at kate@capitalbmedia.co.uk

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