Local company gets funding boost to develop HIV detector that could ‘change the world’
Published Tuesday, February 5, 2013 3:22PM MST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:40PM MST
An Edmonton company believes it's one step closer to changing the world - after receiving a big funding boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work in developing a urine test that can detect HIV in its early stages.
It's something researchers say could mean faster treatment to help patients live longer lives - and bring down healthcare costs.
The brother-sister duo behind Metabolistics Inc., have already developed urine tests to help detect breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Now the company has collaborated with researchers in California to develop a urine test that could help HIV patients with quicker diagnosis and treatment – and bring down healthcare costs.
“It’s been quite a fruitful collaboration,” said scientist Carolyn Slupsky, with Metabolistics.
“We're the first to try and commercialize this and get this out into the world and move it into something that's translatable rather than something that's just sitting in a laboratory.”
Along with early detection, Slupsky says test results will also tell scientists if they need to come up with new and alternative ways to prevent the spread of the disease.
The test could also be used in incidence testing for cancer and allow doctors to potentially treat cancer earlier with the possibility of a more positive outcome.
Slupsky has spent countless hours in the lab, and had been doubtful such technology could be created but is excited it’s now becoming a reality.
“I have to pinch myself, every time I think about this stuff because its been an amazing ride, an amazing journey,” Slupsky said. “The future is pretty bright. It’s amazing to be a company coming out of Edmonton, coming out of Canada, and be the first to be on the global market with this.”
Funding boost from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
On Tuesday, the company announced it has received nearly half a million dollars in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with support from the National Research Council of Canada, which will allow the company to continue work developing biomarkers for HIV infection.
“We think that this is a big deal and it will change the world,” said Steve Slupsky, Carolyn’s brother and director of Metabolistics Inc.
“You can do one test and you can literally screen for thousands of human disease and illnesses. The impact of that is profound. It will change healthcare.”
Coun. Don Iveson, who was on hand for the funding announcement, calls it a proud moment for the city.
“Truly, this is one of those inspiring, city-building moments,” Iveson said.
“To have one of our fledgling companies recognized by somebody like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with promising research that can change the world and employ people and create wealth in Edmonton, these are all good news stories.”
HIV causes AIDS, which breaks down the body's immune system and leaves people vulnerable to infections that are eventually fatal. Millions have died from HIV/AIDS worldwide.
According to Health Canada, it’s estimated more than 70,000 people were living with HIV in 2011 and that number has been on the rise.
Bringing down healthcare costs
The company says a key advantage of its HIV detection approach is that a single urine sample can be used to screen for many diseases – including HIV – and that convenience, efficiency, and cost, will ultimately benefit patients, doctors and the healthcare system.
“We can continue to scale this technology, do more and more diseases, for only marginal increment of cost. You can literally get down to a test that is less than a dollar and that’s absolutely possible,” Steve said.
“You start talking about how much money we spend on just diagnosing someone, it’s a very costly process and takes a lot of experts a long time in some cases. If you can provide a tool that’s only a dollar that helps doctors get to a decision in half the time, then you’ve really innovated and you’ve really changed healthcare economics.”
The Slupsky’s believe they can help not only people in Canada, but also those in third-world countries.
“That caught the eye of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” Steve said. “What the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation allows us to do is to really make the dent in the universe.”
Funding will allow the company to analyze specimens from countries with high rates of HIV and evaluate them with their incident measurement tool.
The eventual hope is their work leads to something even bigger.
“I really believe this is how we enable a cure,” Steve said.
With files from Susan Amerongen