With the global obesity epidemic showing no signs of abating, a local company says a huge potential market exists for tests that could identify patients at risk of diabetic complications such as heart and kidney disease.
Christchurch-based Canterbury Scientific, in conjunction with the University of Canterbury's Biomolecular Interaction Centre, was last week awarded $1 million in government funding for a research project that is expected to lead to the development of such tests.
The company claims the tests could earn export revenue of between $5 million and $10 million by 2020.
Canterbury Scientific chief executive Neil Pattinson said there would be strong and growing demand for the product.
"Diabetes is a growing disease, particularly as the Eastern world becomes more Westernised and affluent their calorie intake increases and obesity becomes a major problem," he said.
Pattinson said the benefits of the research would further global scientific understanding around the triggers of diabetic complications.
It would also meet an urgent need to improve diabetic patient outcomes by ensuring at-risk patients receive close monitoring and early treatment, which reduces the impact on the health system, he said.
Canterbury Scientific, which employs 15 staff, said the concept for the tests stemmed from recent international studies that found two biomarkers - indicators of a biological state - for diabetic vision impairment.
The research sought to assess whether these biomarkers could also predict kidney and heart problems.
Pattinson said it could take up to a decade to get the tests to market.
The company would look to manufacture the tests and supply them to major pharmaceutical firms, he said.
Canterbury Scientific already makes a blood glucose test for diabetics and says it has "strong distribution arrangements" with global healthcare giants including Roche, Beckman Coulter and Siemens.
The Ministry of Health says diabetes affects about 300,000 New Zealanders and roughly 10 per cent of the global adult population has the disease, according to the World Health Organisation. Canterbury Scientific's research was one of 31 projects awarded funding under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's High Value Manufacturing and Services Fund.
* 10 per cent of the global adult population affected
* 300,000 people have the disease in New Zealand
* $10m: The annual export revenue by 2020 that tests
* identifying those at risk of diabetes-related
* complications such as heart disease could earn.
Sources: World Health Organisation/Ministry of Health/Canterbury Scientific