Technology

Incidence rates of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, as well as a range of sexually transmitted diseases are high in resource-poor countries. The best tests we have today to diagnose and monitor these diseases are called PCR tests.

Although these tests offer unmatched accuracy, they are complex, expensive and therefore limited to pathology labs.

Using next-generation technology termed Digital PCR we are developing a new testing device that will be portable, cost-effective and could be massively deployed in remote locations to diagnose, monitor and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Are you developing a new test platform or improving an existing one?

We are improving an existing test platform termed Digital PCR. Digital PCR is well-established technology, referenced by over 10,000 scientific journal papers over the last decade. These test platforms are being developed and sold by Bio-RadThermofisher ScientificQiagenFluidigmStilla TechnologiesDropworks, and Talis Biomedical.

Can the test platform be used to detect other infectious diseases? What is the market size of these tests?

Yes. The DNA test platform we are developing is a generalized platform. By adjusting the reagents and genetic material extraction method it could detect the presence of any infectious disease. As a result of their potential impact, the global Digital PCR market generated ~$320 million in 2017, and is expected to reach $1.2 bn by 2025, with a CAGR of 18%.

What is unique about your technology?

All Digital PCR test platform rely on miniaturised liquid dispensing at the nano-liter scale. We are developing a new disposable, cartridge-based solution to simplify this step that will interface with mobile-device technology. This will result in significant cost reduction, scalability, improved accuracy and speed.

Are there any technological barriers that limit the test adoption?

Yes. Automated and cost-effective extraction of a genetic material from a sample is a challenge shared by all PCR-based tests. This technological gap is gradually being addressed. Till a simple solution will emerge, genetic material extraction will rely on manual liquid handling steps.

In the future could the test platform help reduce infectious rates of HIV in resource-poor countries?

Yes. It was found that HIV patients that are prescribed antiretroviral medication cannot infect healthy individuals via sexual contact.  However, to verify that the medication works, a targeted genetic test is needed to verify that the amount of virus in their blood is low. Unfortunately, such tests are expensive and therefore inaccessible to the wider population in resource-poor countries.  Therefore, reducing the cost barrier of these tests and making them accessible to the public could help reduce HIV infectious rates.

Could the test be used to sequence DNA?

No. The test cannot be used to sequence DNA. Unlike DNA sequencing the user need to know in advance the target infectious agent to test against.