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FIND Partners with LifeArc on £6.2M Leishmaniasis Dx Project in Kenya, Announces Cholera Dx Initiative

NEW YORK – FIND has formed a £6.2 million ($7.8 million) partnership with LifeArc, a non-profit medical research organization, to develop approaches to detect and treat visceral leishmaniasis. The global diagnostics non-profit also announced on Friday the planned distribution of 1.2 million cholera rapid diagnostic tests.

Visceral leishmaniasis mainly affects children, and when left untreated, is fatal in more than 95 percent of cases, FIND said in a statement. The disease is caused by parasites that are spread by sandflies, with malnutrition increasing the risk of serious infection. Visceral leishmaniasis affects 90,000 people each year in Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Called Intensifying Visceral Leishmaniasis Diagnostic Efforts in Support of Disease Elimination in Kenya, the project will run until 2027 and support the World Health Organization's goal of visceral leishmaniasis elimination by 2030. Among its efforts, it will boost testing capacity at the local and national level in Kenya and strengthen the health system to enable faster diagnosis and treatment. The project will also accelerate the development of novel tests and address the need for more sensitive diagnostics for pathogen control efforts, FIND said.

"Partnering with FIND to support the implementation of existing tools, as well as helping move forward new and improved diagnostic tests, represents a real opportunity to make a step-change and contribute towards eliminating this fatal disease in Kenya," said Mike Strange, head of global health at LifeArc.

Formerly known as MRC Technology, LifeArc has expertise in humanizing antibodies. It worked with Organon Biosciences to develop the cancer drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and has helped develop four other drugs - Actemra (tocilizumab) for rheumatoid arthritis, Tysabri (natalizumab) for multiple sclerosis, Entyvio (vedolizumab) for ulcerative colitis, and Leqembi (lecanemab) for Alzheimer's disease. The firm's Neglected Tropical Disease Translational Challenge aims to form partnerships and invest more than £100 million in biomarker and diagnostic translation and new treatments, according to the group's website.

Separately on Friday, FIND announced the global deployment of more than 1.2 million rapid diagnostic tests in 14 countries to detect cholera.

The deployment is the result of a collaboration between FIND and WHO, UNICEF, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and other partners, and the first shipment of cholera RDTs will arrive today in Malawi, the groups said in a statement. Subsequent shipments will be made over the next several months to countries currently experiencing cholera outbreaks, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Syria, and Zambia. Additional countries registered with the program include Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The program has been funded and coordinated by Gavi. UNICEF led the procurement and delivery in collaboration with the WHO and the Global Task Force on Cholera Control, while FIND led development of the target product profile.

The tests will be supplied by two unidentified manufacturers. The WHO previously prequalified one cholera RDT from Arkray, called Crystal VC

Previously used for outbreak response, they were validated for cholera surveillance in pilot studies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, and Nepal that included US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention participation. Cholera is caused by a Vibrio cholerae bacteria that is shed from the digestive system and spreads in unsanitary water conditions. 

"Routine use of diagnostics will bolster cholera surveillance in impacted countries, and must be leveraged to better target vaccination efforts, which play a critical role in multisectoral cholera prevention and control programs," said Aurélia Nguyen, chief program officer at Gavi.