The Business of Global Health No. 9

Rapid Diagnosis of Ebola Key to containing the Ebola contagion is diagnosis of infection at its earliest stages. Last week, the British company Primer Design Ltd. announced it was in discussions with the WHO about testing and near-term deployment of its “quick and affordable” test (FierceDiagnostics story). The test uses real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology and, while RT-PCR is a workhorse of research and clinical labs, it requires a reading machine that costs $3000 to $30,000 , a cost that may pose a barrier to wide-spread adoption. Other companies working on rapid tests (all non-RT-PCR) are the team of California-based Nanomix and Colorado-based Corgenix and Senova in Weimar, Germany.

Better Malaria Diagnosis As recently noted in the primary website for start-up company activity in Africa, VC4Africa, among the many ventures leveraging smart phone technology and internet connectivity is Matibabu (VC4Africa profile). The company has a design, and possibly a prototype, of a cell phone attachment to diagnose malaria without the discomfort and complication of a blood draw. The device, that looks like a finger-tip oxygen sensor, uses light to detect the change in shape in infected RBCs and has been in development over the past year, according to a post at Maketechx. For a bit more on product development needs in malaria, see my post, “Bad Air Replay”.

TB Vaccine for Adults Clearly better vaccines for tuberculosis, a significant factor in worldwide mortality, are needed and the conventional thinking is that development efforts should be aimed at vaccines for children before exposure or adults post exposure (e.g., TB Vaccine Working Group). However, a recent modeling study (Knight et al. 2014) showed that “vaccines targeted at adolescents/adults could have a much greater impact on the TB burden over a 2024–2050 time horizon than those vaccines targeted at infants. Such vaccines could also be cost-effective, even with relatively high vaccine prices.” As noted in a FierceVaccines story, even a 60% effective vaccine with a ten-year duration would prevent 17 million cases in selected low-income countries while a vaccine for infants would prevent 1 million. While in general vaccines for adults have a smoother development path than those for children, interest in adult TB vaccine development is low among companies, but this study may help. For more on TB vaccines, see my post, “Vakzine Projekt Replay”.


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