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De Beers Funds Startup Erada Technology €288K to Develop World's First Malaria Spit Test

NEW YORK – International diamond mining corporation De Beers Group will provide €288,000 ($316,566) to Erada Technology Alliance, a South African medical technology startup developing the world's first saliva-based rapid test for malaria.

The grant, announced today by De Beers, will support the final stages of assay development with a targeted launch date of the assay on World Malaria Day in April 2020.

The test uses a technology called the Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test, or SMAART, detecting a biomarker produced by female Plasmodium falciparum parasites during subclinical infection.

The method was originally developed at Johns Hopkins University with funding and participation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Maryland Innovation Initiative, and was recently described in Science Translational Medicine.

Erada Technology Alliance has exclusively licensed the technology from JHU, and the startup plans to bring the diagnostic tool to market under the brand name SALVA! in partnership with University of Florida's Dinglasan Malaria Laboratory, US-based oral diagnostic testing company Oasis Diagnostics Corporation, and Fusion Antibodies, a contract research organization based in Northern Ireland.

"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 finalization of commercialization of SALVA!," Erada founder Benji Pretorius said in a statement.

Malaria kills an estimated 435,000 people each year worldwide. In 2017, children under the age of 5 in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 60 percent of global malaria deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

"Our vision is to bring to market as quickly as possible Erada's SALVA! diagnostic tool in the belief that it will go on to save literally millions of lives in the future," Pretorius said.

The funding was facilitated by De Beers Group's Venetia Diamond Mine in Limpopo, located in the Northern province of South Africa close to the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana. "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," commented Gerrie Nortje, general manager of the Venetia mine.