HIV treatment test closer to manufacture with new grant
An initiative that is developing a rapid and inexpensive test to analyse the immune system of people living with HIV/AIDS has received a $7.3m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it was announced today.
If successful, the test would improve healthcare workers' ability to determine the best treatment for their patients.
The CD4 Initiative at Imperial College London was established to develop an easy to use point-of-care test with a cost of around $2 that can rapidly measure the numbers of CD4+ T-cells in a person's blood, without using electronics or mechanical parts.
CD4+ T-cells are critical for a healthy functioning immune system and are slowly destroyed during the course of HIV infection. When the numbers of CD4+ T-cells in a person's blood drop, this makes them increasingly vulnerable to illness.
Healthcare workers rely on a CD4 count when making decisions about how HIV-positive patients should be treated and when they should begin antiretroviral therapy. The new test would enable patients to find out within minutes if they should begin antiretroviral treatment.
Imperial's academic and industrial partners in the CD4 Initiative have worked since 2007 to devise the new test. Teams from Beckman Coulter, Inc (USA), Macfarlane Burnet Institute (Australia) and Zyomyx, Inc (USA) have already developed three prototypes, one of which will be chosen to be manufactured and mass produced in 2010.
The new test will work with a finger-prick blood sample and will have a simple read-out. One of the new prototypes has a design similar to that of a home pregnancy test.
The majority of patients in the developing world do not currently have access to CD4 testing because it is expensive and requires specially trained operators. Where testing facilities exist, it is often too difficult for people in rural areas to reach them. For those who are tested, it can take weeks to obtain results.
"This simple, rapid low-cost CD4 T-cells test is indeed a breakthrough for ART in Africa where lack of infrastructure for CD4 count occasioned by the prohibitive cost has placed the life-saving treatment out of reach of many, especially in the rural inaccessible places. With this new method, coupled with cheaper antiretroviral medicines, we can begin to talk of ART Access to All." - Ebun Walker, Nigeria