GHF2008 – PS27 – Biotechnology to Improve Access to Health: Can it Make a Difference?

Session Outline

Parallel session PS27, Wednesday, May 28 2008, 11:00-12:30, Room 15
Chair(s): Robin Offord, Executive Director, Mintaka Medical Research Foundation and Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland
Finding Simple Solutions for Developing Countries Using Advanced Technology
Robin Offord, Executive Director, Mintaka Medical Research Foundation / Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland 
Partnerships for Malaria Eradication
Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer, Medicines for Malaria Venture, Switzerland 
Biotechnology and Access to Health: The Case of Diagnostics
Vinand Nantulya, Senior Policy and Implementation Officer, Policy and Communications, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Switzerland  
Accelerating Health Innovation in Africa
Ronak Shah, Research Assistant, McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto, Canada 
Multipathogen Detection Using High-Density Microarrays
Stewart Cole, Global Health Institute EPFL, Switzerland

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Jimena Lazarte (ICVolunteers)

Molecular amplification methods, multi-pathogen detection using high-density micro arrays, microbicides that protect women from HIV infection: "Biotech is poised to make an impact on access to health in developing countries." Now that the role of biotechnology as a means to health has been established, we must consider what needs to be done to extend it to developing countries.

Robin Offord, Executive Director of Mintaka Medical Research Foundation opened the session by emphasizing the responsibility of local stakeholders as the interface between innovation and local populations.

Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer at Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), believes that we need to focus on the 'technology' bit in biotechnology for the developing world and see how it can be used to make treatment both more efficient and more affordable. Effective partnerships that synergize the best from the private and public sector are essential to this project. He described how MMV was able successfully to develop antimalarials through active portfolio management (including the termination of ineffective projects), raising and allocating philanthropic and public funds to projects, integrating and coordinating world class industry with academic science and medicine under the guidance of international thought leaders, and ensuring new medicines are accessible to and meet the needs of targeted patients and medics.

Vinand Nantulya, Chief Scientific Officer at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), outlined how biotechnology can be exploited to deliver rapid, affordable, accurate and context appropriate diagnostics. For example, he noted the co-development of a molecular amplification methods in Japan that can be used to test for HIV without additional equipment (as the result is indicated by the acid's colour) within a few minutes.

Ronak Shah, a researcher from the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health discussed the challenges that Sub-Saharan countries will face if they are to tackle their own health problems, capture the value of their own research, accelerate commercialization of their own products and enter the innovative sectors of the global economy. Following 110 interviews in Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda it was found that there is a lot of unexploited potential to commercialize innovative biomedical research and the development of traditional medicines. In order to improve inadequate financial incentives/resources as well as reduce the lack of synergy and knowledge flows between companies and actors in science and technology, the concept of convergence innovation was studied during stakeholder workshops: "In particular, the [African Development] Bank should support the development of national and regional centres of excellence in the health science [...]. These centres would facilitate and incubate innovation, supporting entrepreneurship and developing technologies."

Stewart Cole from the Global Health Institute, briefed the meeting on the initiative started by the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) a few years ago to develop a chip for multipathogen detection using high-density microarrays. The chip, known as 'pathogen ID', detects select agents (at least 50 types of bacteria, 42 viruses and 619 toxins and antibiotic resistance genes), gives a predicted virulence profile and identifies GM agents. While the diagnosis of this new molecular method are in agreement with those made with the traditional antibiogram, pathogen ID is more advantageous because it yields a lot more information. It can help predict possible antibiotic resistance and give results in less time.

Finally, Robin Offord reported on the progress made by the Mintaka Medical Research Foundation in developing a local anti HIV microbicide that will empower young girls and women with the means to protect themselves from HIV. He believes that some of the proteins that are being developed at Mintaka could prevent person to person transmission. Meanwhile, the two big questions around this project are: 1) will women accept and use microbicide protection and 2) will it be affordable? While a sociologist has been called to study the first question, the answer to the second question is that it is very likely Mintaka will be able to manufacture these proteins by microbial fermentation for a significantly low cost at perhaps two dollars per gramme.

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