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Shannon firm developing HIV kit

SHANNON company AltraTech is working on developing an inexpensive, disposable kit that could dramatically improve HIV management worldwide.

AltraTech, which was founded two years ago, has just signed a collaboration agreement with the US National Institute of Health (NIH).

CEO Tim Cummins is a Cork man, now based in Cratloe. He explained the management of HIV is quite a complex process from the moment diagnosis is made.

“If you are diagnosed HIV positive, unfortunately a life-changing diagnosis, you’re a little bit like the diabetic who has been told they have type 2 diabetes and for the rest of their life they have to monitor their blood sugar; they have to measure it, inject insulin or take tablets or something. It’s the same for a person with HIV, there’s still no cure for it even though many people are trying. They have to take antiviral drugs and try to keep the virus at bay. To do that, the virus has to be measured, not every day like blood sugar but every few months.”

Keeping tabs on HIV is also difficult, he added. “Measuring the amount of virus is quite tricky, there are only two labs in Ireland that can do it for example. In some African countries I think there are no labs that can do it. To get that test done every couple of months, it just doesn’t happen in large parts of the world. It’s because of cost and availability and a whole load of reasons. Because it’s such a complicated test, it needs very special, expensive lab equipment and highly-trained people.”

AltraTech is working on developing a $10 dollar testing kit, which it says will have massive benefits globally but particularly in more deprived countries. It would be portable, battery-operated and no refrigeration would be required.

“Even in Ireland, having a new kit like this, it wouldn’t replace the gold standard lab test but it would certainly reduce the burden, because a lot of the regular monitoring could be moved to our kit. It’s applicable here in Ireland, in America and Europe and of course in the developing world,” Mr Cummins stated.

There is an overall market of around €500 million the company believes and the hope is it will ultimately get 15% to 20% of the market share.

On the collaboration with the US NIH Mr Cummins said, “It’s news in itself, the idea of a small start-up in Ireland signing a collaboration agreement with the biggest health research institute in the world, which has a €30 billion dollar budget”.

He says they hope to make a lot of progress next year. “We have a partial prototype working, we have the core bits all working, we now need to raise €5 million in funding to turn it into a complete prototype by 2017.”

At the moment, the company, which also has a presence in Cork, has six full-time employees and five part-time. When funding is secured, it is expected employment will go up to around 25.

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