Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

British company racing to contain Ebola

Published: 10 October 2014
Primer Design

High-tech British company Primerdesign Ltd, a spin-off company from the University of Southampton, has developed a fast and simple diagnostic test solution specific to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

With the current epidemic of Ebola virus in West Africa, Primerdesign are racing to provide an easy-to-use, affordable solution for screening suspect Ebola patients.

“Accurate diagnostics is essential in controlling an outbreak like Ebola. There is an urgent need for rapid testing to screen suspected patients and people travelling in and out of the region,” explains Dr Jim Wicks, Managing Director of Primerdesign. “Our test is quick, affordable and easy to perform,” he adds.

The kit detects the DNA finger print of the Ebola Virus. It means that even minute quantities of the disease can be detected in the early stages allowing for pre-emptive healthcare intervention.

Primerdesign Ltd, which is part of the university business incubator collaboration SETsquared, has finished development work in the last few days and is meeting with the World Health Organisation to discuss plans to possibly put large numbers of these tests in to the front line in West Africa as quickly as possible.

University-Industry Network Event

The first IfLS University-Industry Network: Nucleic Acid Devices Event will be held on Tuesday 25 November.  The keynote speaker is Professor Mark Bradley FRSE FRSC (University of Edinburgh) with presentations by Professor Hywel Morgan FRSC FInstP (University of Southampton) and Primerdesign.

Full details of the event can be viewed here.

Notes for editors

Notes for editors:

1. Media opportunities:

  • Phone or face-to-face interviews with Dr Rob Powell, R&D Director, or Dr Jim Wicks, Managing Director
  • Detailed technical information/specifications.
  • Tour and photographic opportunities of laboratories

2. How the kit works:

Principle: Viruses all have a unique genetic fingerprint the same as we do. Ours is encoded in DNA but the Ebola virus uses RNA (Ribonucleic acid). So the kit is designed to specifically detect the Ebola RNA in a patient blood sample.


- Blood sample is taken from patient

- RNA is extracted with a few simple steps

- RNA is placed in a tube with our kit ingredients

- Tube goes in to machine

- Analysis complete within 90 minutes

3. Primerdesign is a spinoff company from the University of Southampton specialising in Real-Time PCR technology. Real-Time PCR, also known as ‘qPCR’ is a mature technology based on the same DNA testing technology of ‘CSI’ fame. Primerdesign deployed the same technology during the recent horsemeat scandal in the UK and famously developed the World’s first Swine Flu detection kit in the 2009 outbreak.




4. Primerdesign is part of the SETsquared collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey which provides services to accelerate businesses and boost enterprise.

Its incubation programme specialises in growing technology start-ups from bases or ‘incubation centres’ at each of the five universities. Start-up companies do not have to be based in one of the SETsquared centres, non-residents can be part of the programme, benefitting from the same world-leading mentorship, networking opportunities and access to investors.

Find out more at

5. Through world-leading research and enterprise activities, the University of Southampton connects with businesses to create real-world solutions to global issues. Through its educational offering, it works with partners around the world to offer relevant, flexible education, which trains students for jobs not even thought of. This connectivity is what sets Southampton apart from the rest; we make connections and change the world.

Privacy Settings