The X PRIZE Foundation has received a planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an X PRIZE for effective diagnosis of tuberculosis in the developing world.
The overall goal of the prize will be to promote better management of the world’s second most lethal infectious disease.
Innovation will need to be tailored for the use in under-developed regions, where over 60% of tuberculosis patients have access to only primitive, peripheral health clinics with scarce resources.
The most commonly used diagnostic method (smear microscopy) used in these under-developed regions fails to efficiently and accurately diagnose tuberculosis. Patients must travel at great cost and time to microscopy centers to receive insensitive tests requiring trained technicians and repeated clinic visits. This current “state of the art” has a sensitivity of approximately 40%. As a result of these challenges, many people, especially those who have latent TB, are in the early stages of infection, are co-infected with HIV, or suffer from extrapulmonary TB, are under diagnosed and treated, resulting in significant death, suffering, and the continued spread of disease.
“Tuberculosis is the second most deadly infectious disease in the world and primarily afflicts developing countries with limited resources to manage the disease and prevent its spread,” said Bard J. Geesaman MD PhD, Executive Director of the X PRIZE Foundation Life Sciences Group. “The great unmet need is effective tools and practices for determining who is infected and needs to be treated. Because of the existing lack of adequate financial incentives to develop such tests, a prize is an ideal tool to incentivize innovation in this important area.”
Development and public health organizations, such as M?decins Sans Fronti?res (MSF), Oxfam, and Results, have also recognized the power of prizes to stimulate innovation of TB diagnostic tests in several conventions of TB experts. And more recently, governments of TB-burdened countries, including Bolivia and Barbados in conjunction with the World Health Organization, have also proposed prizes for a rapid, low-cost diagnostic test. “There are many complex issues in designing the TB diagnostics prize. The X PRIZE Foundation will be bringing together experts in the TB and public health community, with those in economics and finance experts, in order to propose a prize that addresses this vexing and important gap in medical technology,” said James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International.
“The X PRIZE Foundation has a proven track record of spurring scientific innovation,” said Peter Small, MD, Senior Program Officer for tuberculosis at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “An X PRIZE for tuberculosis diagnostics could someday help save many lives in the world’s poorest countries.”
The need for a prize in tuberculosis diagnostics was first recognized by the Advisory Council of the X PRIZE Foundation’s Life Sciences Group. The idea was also independently explored by a classroom of students at the X PRIZE Foundation’s X PRIZE Lab @ MIT. The Lab is a semester long class that focused on Healthcare in the Developing World in the spring of 2008. As part of an ongoing project, several students discussed a need for a prize in this area, leading to combined discussions with the Gates Foundation, which resulted in the grant.
Source: X PRIZE Foundation, USA