What Is a Photonic Biosensor and How Will It Change the Point-Of-Care Diagnostics Market?

08 March 2022

Accurate and cost-effective biosensors are expected to play a crucial role in the roll-out of point of care testing. Point of care (PoC) testing is the practice of diagnosing patients at the point of need rather than sending samples to a remote specialised medical laboratory. PoC testing therefore reduces the cost of and the time taken in diagnosis. Integrated photonics technology offers a possible solution for developing genuine PoC diagnostic devices. 

Faster, cheaper disease diagnosis

Most medical diagnostics techniques use time-consuming, expensive, and specialized techniques performed by trained technicians in a laboratory. Moreover, the distance between the patient and the diagnostic centre can lead to long wait times. What if we could develop a portable, easy to-use, lab-on-a-chip (LOC) platform for real-time diagnosis? The advantages over current methods would be immense. For example, think of faster diagnosis, much lower costs, and a reduction in the need for highly trained staff. All of which would make fast, cheap testing available to almost everyone. Fortunately, that dream is fast-becoming reality, with Integrated Photonics.

What is integrated photonics? And what does it have to do with biosensors?

Photonics is the technology that uses light to carry information. And since light travels extremely fast, photonic data transmission provides exceptionally high-speed, low-energy information transfer. Photonics additionally provides new ways to sense the world around us. It is a key enabling technology for healthcare, autonomous vehicles and smart farming. Integrated Photonics is the technology that creates entire photonic networks on a single silicon chip. And when coupled with advanced “biosensors”, Integrated Photonics opens the door to genuine Point-of-Care (PoC) diagnostic systems. 

Biosensing is the detection of biomolecules using an analytical device that combines a biological component with a physicochemical detector. So, what is a photonic biosensor? Silicon photonic biosensors based on evanescent wave detection are among the leading types of technology that can deliver genuine PoC devices.

Huge growth in PoC testing markets

All this is good news for PoC players. And the really good news is that according to the specialist market research group “Yole Development” the  PoC market is expected to grow more than double in the next few years from $4.8B in 2019 to $10.1B in 2025, at a CAGR of 13.0%. In addition, the associated biosensor device market (microfluidic chips) was valued at $500M in 2019 with an estimated growth to $777M by 2025 at CAGR of 7.7%.

The market predictions above are not at all surprising when you consider that the emerging field of Photonic Integrated Circuit-based (PIC-based) biosensors offers many major advantages to the PoC industry. These advantages include: miniaturization, extreme sensitivity, robustness, reliability, potential for multiplexing (multiple simultaneous tests) and mass production at low cost.

Who is leading this emerging integrated photonics field? 

The Netherlands is a global leader in PIC research, development, and production. Various research institutes and private companies have led IP breakthroughs here for more than a decade. This innovation is assisted and supported by PhotonDelta, a growth accelerator for the Dutch integrated photonics industry. The stated mission of PhotonDelta is to further innovation in the area of IP biosensing.

There is already a thrivingPIC technology community in the Netherlands, and more high-tech players are getting involved – especially in the PoC segment. That’s why PhotonDelta has created a highly valuable roadmap for the practitioners of this technology. It’s a step-by-step guide to making the most of this technology in the PoC market. Moreover, this roadmap is available to private companies and academic institutions  involved in developing integrated photonics technology in the Netherlands.

Challenges for the biosensing industry

Challenges for the development of PIC-based PoC tests focus on a trade-off between cost and robustness/reliability. There are several directions the technology could take. This depends on the timing of the maturation of some of the technology and the focus that leading developers take. A multi-disciplinary approach towards assay development, biochemistry, surface functionalization, microfluidics, and an integrated approach to industrialization is necessary for high cadence innovation.

The biosensing ecosystem is complex and requires significant collaboration between diverse groups to ensure continued increased innovation. A high-level overview of the industry’s leading players and influencers demonstrates how a collaborative approach to PIC biosensors for PoC devices is essential.

Some of the main players in this emerging industry include:

  • Platform providers: these will offer a hardware platform (instrument & disposable) that enables the integration of standardized assays, with sample preparation and detection.
  • Assay providers: these will come with their own assay (reagents) and will collaborate with the platform provider to integrate the assay on the hardware.
  • Disposable manufacturers: these will combine the elements from the platform provider and the assay provider. May also obtain optical biosensors from the foundry.
  • Distributors: these players are the conduits to the end-user. May also be the platform provider and even the assay provider.
  • End-user: any customer having purchased the instrument from the platform provider.
  • Others: providing packaging, assembly, and testing equipment; R&D services.

Additional applications of biosensors

Outside of efficient and low-cost PoC testing, there are several drivers in life sciences and health care that can be addressed by integrated photonics. These include the continuous monitoring of biomarkers (wearable, minimally invasive, ingestible, or implantable). There is also the possibility of a combination of monitoring of biomarkers with simultaneous therapy, within the framework of personalized medicine.

Next steps

Even pre-Covid, there is a sizeable, fast-growing market for PoC testing, with a large number of potentially profitable product/market segment combinations. The most significant growth area is in complex molecular diagnostics that require low-cost disposable biosensors that deliver fast results and have extensive multiplexing capability. A collaborative approach, particularly between diagnostic companies and platform providers is key for globally relevant innovation.

Get a clear overview of the Point of Care market and the opportunities offered by integrated photonics in the roadmap ‘The road to next-gen biosensing’.