Imperial receives Gates Foundation grant to develop new tests for managing AIDS treatment

November 21, 2005

Imperial College London has received a £4.9 ($8.6) million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a simple, affordable and rapid test to measure the health of the immune system in HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries.

The 'CD4 Initiative' will develop an easy to use device which can measure CD4+ T-lymphocytes in HIV+ patients. The CD4 cell count measures the number of these critical disease-fighting cells in the blood, a figure which health care workers need in order to make key clinical decisions in managing HIV disease, such as when to begin or to switch antiretroviral therapy.

Current technologies for measuring CD4 counts are expensive to buy and maintain, and require a level of infrastructure and training which is often not available in many developing countries. The CD4 Initiative will develop new tests that are more appropriate for these countries based on specifications developed with health care workers in hospitals and clinics in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

Professor Stephen Smith, Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "Despite the burden of HIV/AIDS on the developing world, many of the diagnostic tools are just not accessible there due to the high cost and complexity of use. This initiative will help develop new, simple, rapid, robust and affordable tools and help remove one important barrier to the effective implementation of AIDS care in these countries."

The principal investigator, Dr. Hans George Batz, together with the Imperial-based team will manage an R&D programme to develop these much needed diagnostics. Dr. Batz is a former Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Roche Diagnostics and has been involved with the development of the initiative for the past two years. Dr. Batz will be supported by an international steering committee of experts, a small staff and the Imperial College's liaison to the project, Dr. Wendy Ewart. The initiative will take a project management approach, common in industry, in which multiple research teams around the world from academia, private companies and other institutions will work collaboratively under the leadership of Dr. Batz and with strict milestones and timelines to achieve.

The principal investigator, Dr. Hans George Batz, together with the Imperial-based team will manage an R&D programme to develop these much needed diagnostics. Dr. Batz is a former Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Roche Diagnostics and has been involved with the development of the initiative for the past two years. Dr. Batz will be supported by an international steering committee of experts, a small staff and the Imperial College's liaison to the project, Dr. Wendy Ewart. The initiative will take a project management approach, common in industry, in which multiple research teams around the world from academia, private companies and other institutions will work collaboratively under the leadership of Dr. Batz and with strict milestones and timelines to achieve.

A Research Funding Agreement for interested test developers and researchers for the CD4 Initiative will be issued in spring 2006. Inquiries about the project can be made to cd4@icl.ac.uk.

Gregg Gonsalves, from Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City, and who was instrumental in the establishment of the initiative, praised the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Imperial College: "The CD4 Initiative is providing a bold new solution to this key problem in public health by bringing together the know-how in product development from industry with the creativity of scientists from all quarters to bring a product to the field more quickly than could be done otherwise. Healthcare workers from developing countries have been clamouring for point-of-care assays for measuring CD4 counts for several years now as management of antiretroviral therapy is difficult without these tests. We are elated that Dr. Batz, Imperial College and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are responding to these urgent pleas for help."
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Imperial College London

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