South African medical tech start-up, ERADA Technology Alliance, is pleased to announce it has received a £288,000 foundation grant from De Beers Group to support its pioneering work on the world’s first ever saliva-based rapid diagnostic test for malaria.
The foundation grant will prove instrumental in ERADA’s final stages of work prior to the diagnostic tool’s global launch planned to coincide with World Malaria Day next April.
The saliva-based diagnostic tool, whose technical name is Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) for subclinical infection, is due to be marketed under the brand SALVA! and will complete its field trials before full commercialisation and distribution in 2020.
De Beers Group, which has mining operations in South Africa, Botswana, Canada and Namibia, has a long history of supporting community and health projects, and the impact of this investment will be felt worldwide in the fight against one of the globe’s most deadly diseases. Worldwide, malaria kills an estimated 435,000 each year, mostly children under the age of five, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The £288,000 grant has been facilitated by De Beers Group’s Venetia Diamond Mine in Limpopo, in the Northern province of South Africa close to the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana. Mr Gerrie Nortje, general manager of the Venetia mine, the country’s largest producer of diamonds with some forty per cent of South Africa’s annual production, said:
‘Mining and exploration operations face a number of unique challenges related to exposure to endemic diseases such as malaria, emergency medical care and in some cases a lack of available health services. Our investment in a local business which has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people worldwide is a logical extension of De Beers Group’s long history of supporting world and community health projects.
‘Through this foundation grant, we are proud to be playing a pivotal early part in the eradication of one the most pervasive and destructive diseases on the planet.’
Commenting on the Foundation Grant, ERADA founder Dr Benji Pretorius, said: ‘This generous grant from De Beers Group makes it possible for ERADA to complete much of our vital preparatory work before we conduct field trials and finalisation of commercialization of SALVA
‘The introduction of SALVA! is going to play a major part in achieving effective diagnostic testing and surveillance; as well as prevention and treatment of this disease, and therefore will be a major catalyst in meeting the WHO’s 2030 target to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by 90%.
‘As someone who contracted malaria, and as a practising GP myself, I know first-hand that if the parasite had been detected early, I could have been treated and cured before the symptoms of the disease made me unwell. It was precisely this experience in my life which spurred me on to work with my colleague Dr Richard Schmidt in our small community, Musina, in South Africa, together with a global team of scientists.
‘Our vision is to bring to market as quickly as possible ERADA’s SALVA! diagnostic tool in the belief that it will go on to save literally millions of lives in the future. De Beers’ generous support is the foundation stone upon which we will make this vision a reality.’
The malaria detection tool is the invention of leading, US-based researchers in the field of malaria diagnostics whose study was published worldwide earlier this year in the international journal, Science Translational Medicine.
SALVA!’s innovative solution is easy to use, as it includes a simple device for standardised collection of saliva that can be implemented in the community by healthcare professionals, teachers and parents; contrasting with invasive blood tests, which must be administered by trained clinicians. Other drawbacks to blood tests include cultural ‘blood taboos’ existing in many countries whilst, furthermore, skin-prick tests are often stressful for children and parents.
ERADA’s saliva test detects a unique biomarker from female parasites circulating in an infected human who is asymptomatic, but is carrying the parasite and likely to come down with malaria within a week. Early, subclinical detection of malaria is crucial to
malaria eradication because individuals who carry the parasite without exhibiting symptoms, known as carriers, are the reservoir which lead to infection of mosquitoes and transmission of the disease. Detecting the presence of the parasite before symptoms appear can save lives because malaria visible disease only erupts a couple of days after the mosquito bite.
The SALVA! detection tool works by detecting a novel biomarker for Plasmodium falciparum parasites. In some areas of the world, the parasites have acquired a mutation and are therefore no longer detected by current blood-based tests. But ERADA’s saliva test detects an essential protein the parasite needs for survival, which should avoid the problem of influence from the mutation and keep the test effective long-term.