Lisa Isaacs

A UWC team’s development of a programme which rapidly, accurately and cost-effectively tests HIV drug resistance is a top 10 finalist for the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA).

Widely recognised as the premier award for African innovation, the IPA has attracted 958 submissions from 46 African countries which have been considered for the 2016 prize.

Innovators have been recognised for their breakthroughs in HIV/Aids, malaria treatment and breast cancer screening, increasing agricultural productivity and more efficient energy utilisation.

Among the elite group is Imogen Wright, representing UWC’s Exatype.

Exatype was developed in response to statistics which showed that of the 3.1 million South Africans currently on ARV treatment, almost 10% do not respond adequately to the first-line drugs provided to them.

The DNA of the HI virus is sequenced using next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology and the results uploaded to a web-based system.

The data is analysed using Exatype to quickly and accurately produce an easy-to-interpret report showing the clinician which drugs would be most effective for that individual patient at that time.

Wright said Exatype ensured individual patients received correct treatment from the start.

The team was excited to be part of groundbreaking innovations from across the continent.

“It is important that doctors can identify resistance and prescribe the appropriate drugs. Exatype is a way to do that,” she said.

Professor Simon Travers, of the SA National Bioinformatics Institute and the team that developed Exatype at UWC, said although initially focusing on HIV drug-resistance testing, solutions for TB and antibiotic resistance testing were also being developed.

“This gives us another tool in the arsenal in the fight against Aids. We are hoping for this to be used around the world,” he said.

After a series of one-on-one interviews with the 10 finalists, the IPA panel will announce the 2016 winner at a gala event in Gaborone, Botswana, next month.

The winner will receive a R1.5 million prize.