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Biotech startup Erada Technology Alliance — which was founded last year by two SA doctors — has secured a €288 000 grant from the De Beers Group for their rapid diagnostic test for malaria.
With the help of the John Hopkins University and Dinglasan Malaria Laboratory, Dr Benji Pretorius and Dr Richard Schmidt, have developed the saliva-based malaria asymptomatic and asexual rapid test (Smaart) test known as Salva! which the startup claims is a world first.
Erada Technology Alliance, which is based in Ebène in Mauritius, said in a statement last Thursday (29 August) that the grant will prove instrumental in the final stages of its work prior to Salva!’s global launch which is set to coincide with World Malaria Day (25 April).
Mauritius based Erada was founded last year by SA doctors Dr Benji Pretorius and Dr Richard Schmidt
Pretorius (pictured above), commenting in the same statement, said the grant makes it possible for Erada to complete much of its vital preparatory work before the startup starts field trials and finalisation of commercialisation 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%,” he added.
Pretorius, who contracted malaria while working as a general practitioner, said had the parasite been detected early on he would have been treated and cured before the symptoms began to show and he became sick.
“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,” he added.
The startup said the grant had been facilitated by De Beers Group’s Venetia Diamond Mine in Limpopo.
How it works
The duo’s 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.
However using the Salva! test doctors are able to detect 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.
The test, Erada said, 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.
Early, sub-clinical 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.
Featured image: Erada co-founder Dr Benji Pretorius (Erada Technology Alliance via Facebook)