Dr. Catharina Boehme, CEO of Geneva-based FIND, an international non profit organization that enables the development and delivery of much-needed diagnostic tests for poverty-related diseases, talks about reverse engineering, the odds of adequate treatment and FIND’s cooperation with QIAGEN.
You yourself have worked in global hotspots. Can you share your observations?
Dr. Catharina Boehme: In Africa we often had to watch helpless people die, without knowing what they were suffering from. Access to efficient diagnostics is prerequisite to combat infectious diseases. In Africa, 60 to 95 percent of children with a negative malaria test will receive antibiotics despite only 10 percent of these children needing them. The situation with tuberculosis is similar, without a rapid test we lose too much time, treat with the wrong drugs and, as a result, the costs are too high.
Which diseases cause the most concern?
Hepatitis C causes more deaths than HIV in some countries. Often this disease is only diagnosed in a very small percentage of people.
Which approaches does FIND pursue?
We carry out screenings in high-risk areas, for example drug addicts living in slums. Here, dangers lurk even in medical facilities, because blood transfusions are contaminated. A good diagnosis is the key to success in fighting infectious diseases.
But diagnostics cost money and require a basic healthcare system. Which challenges do you face?
We need to downgrade high tech for low-tech applications. In the case of sequencing technologies, that means an easy-to-use, robust basic version is created from the high-tech product. It’s called reverse engineering. In certain cases we can replace liquid testing with these pared-down sequencing technologies. The doctor immediately has a result, but above all a laboratory is not necessary. In remote areas, that’s not trivial.
What does your partnership with QIAGEN look like?
We aim to advance diagnostics for tuberculosis to help reduce the global burden of this deadly disease. Our partnership here spans three areas: tests to enable targeted preventive therapy, tests to detect drug resistance at the point of care, and sequencing as a future gold standard in TB surveillance and regimen selection. We will also work on improved tests to detect patients with latent TB who are at risk to active disease progression. Important first steps have already been taken, and we hope to expand our partnerships to other disease areas in the future as well.