Erada Technology Alliance, a South African heathtech startup, has received a €288 000 foundation grant from the De Beers Group to support its Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) test.
The €288 000 grant was 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.
According to Mr Gerrie Nortje, general manager of the Venetia mine, “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.”
Erada Technology Alliance says its test, known as SALVA, is the world’s first-ever saliva-based rapid diagnostic test for malaria without using blood. The firm will use the grant to complete its field trials, launch SALVA globally and fully commercialise it in 2020.
“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,”said ERADA founder Dr Benji Pretorius.
The firm is projecting that the launch of SALVA will 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.
The firm says its vision is to bring the test to market as quickly as possible in the belief that it will go on to save literally millions of lives in the future.
SALVA! 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.
SALVA also 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 the SALVA! 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.
De Beers Group 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 grant has been facilitated by De Beers Group’s Venetia Diamond Mine in Limpopo, in the Northern province of South Africa.