Owlstone Medical announces a novel approach to breath-based testing for investigation of the onset, progression, and treatment of disease

Use of Exogenous VOC (EVOC) Probes to provide clear biomarkers in breath.

Owlstone Medical, the global leader in Breath Biopsy® for applications in early disease detection and precision medicine, today announces the development of an innovative alternative approach to breath-based testing through the utilization of Exogenous Volatile Organic Compound (EVOC®) Probes. The novel probes will enable Breath Biopsy to be deployed for a wider range of applications.

  • Exogenous Volatile Organic Compound (EVOC®) Probes represent an important advance to support the implementation of Breath Biopsy in a wide range of applications
  • Paper published in peer-reviewed Journal of Breath Research describes the use of EVOCs as metabolic pathway-specific probes
  • Initial focus on research into drug metabolism, liver function, and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)

Recently published in the Journal of Breath Research, the potential of EVOC Probes to explore metabolic pathways is described, along with the potential of Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy EVOC Probes Research Kit to help transition breath testing from the lab into the clinic.

Exhaled human breath contains over 1,000 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals can originate from within the body (endogenous) but also can come from external sources such as diet, prescription drugs and environmental exposures (exogenous). To date, VOC-based breath research has focused on the identification of endogenous VOCs as disease biomarkers, however few tests based on this approach have made it to the clinic.

There are multiple reasons this is the case, which Owlstone Medical is directly addressing through its innovative Breath Biopsy platform and through large and robust clinical trials run on behalf of clients or its own studies to identify and validate endogenous biomarkers. Now, to broaden the range of tools available to address high need areas and to accelerate the launch of commercial tests, the company has pioneered the use of EVOC Probes to investigate the onset, progression, and treatment of disease.

The concept of administering exogenous probes to assess metabolic function in the body on breath has been applied previously but has been limited to stable isotope-labelled probes. Owlstone Medical’s novel approach is to develop and deploy a range of externally administered compounds that fall under the FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list and through breath analysis, explore how they are absorbed, metabolized or excreted to give a direct measure of metabolic activity and organ function.

The compounds that will be incorporated into EVOC Probes operate through known metabolic pathways and so measurement of their breakdown provides direct insight into the functioning of that pathway. Further, as these compounds are not normally present on breath, their detection and measurement provide a very clear signal that offers the potential for a new wave of substrate-based breath tests.

Three early areas of focus for Owlstone Medical in the application of EVOC Probes are drug metabolism, liver function, and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH).

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “EVOC Probes represent a powerful new approach to breath-based diagnosis. By deploying this complementary technology alongside endogenous VOC biomarker discovery efforts as part of our Breath Biopsy platform, Owlstone Medical is now able to bring a much broader range of tools to bear in solving the challenge of the earlier detection of disease and the more efficient and effective discovery, development, and use of novel therapeutics.”

Image: Use of Exogenous VOC (EVOC) Probes to provide clear biomarkers in breath. © Owlstone Medical

Learn more about EVOC Probes


The Owlstone detector is a revolutionary dime-sized device that can be programmed to detect a wide range of chemical agents that may be present in extremely small quantities. Using leading-edge micro- and nano- fabrication techniques, Owlstone has created a complete chemical detection system that is one hundred times smaller and one thousand times cheaper than existing technologies.

Owlstone Medical Limited