The 2014-15 Ebola epidemic was unprecedented in its scale and geographical distribution. By the middle of 2015, World Health Organization (WHO) statistics recorded over 27 000 cases and 11 000 deaths from the disease, most of them in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
One of the biggest challenges in containing an Ebola outbreak is quick and efficient diagnosis. Until now, patients who were suspected of having the virus had to be taken to treatment centres far away from their communities and kept in isolation centres until tests confirmed that they were not infected. Even if they were found to be healthy and subsequently released, they were often stigmatised in their local communities, as others feared that they may have been exposed to the virus. This caused psychological stress and trauma, spreading fear in local communities, and making it harder to contain outbreaks. Some people who developed symptoms would even avoid or hide from the Ebola tracing teams as they feared being ostracised.
IMI’s Mofina project developed a portable device, no bigger than a shoe box, which can be used for diagnosing all known Ebola virus strains as well as Marburg virus in the field. The testing is easy, safe, reliable, and can be performed by people with little training such as local health care workers, saving money and resources. All that is needed to perform the test is a simple prick of a finger.
The product has been validated, CE-IVD marked and is already commercially available. This is the first commercially available test that is both portable and can test for all the known Ebola virus strains. It is anticipated that potential buyers could include public health institutes, diagnostic services, WHO and non-governmental organisations tackling outbreaks.
Cooperation with key partners
According to the project partners, the success of this project would not have been possible without the collaboration between the public and private partners, brought together by IMI.
For example, the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) within the project, Altona Diagnostics, contributed by bringing in their diagnostic test for all the different strains of Ebola that was validated and could be used in a normal lab setting. Another private partner, Alere Technologies, brought in a molecular diagnosis platform which is already used across Africa for HIV testing in the field. It is by combining those two technologies that the project partners were able to develop a unique new test which is both portable and can test for of the known Ebola virus strains.
Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration with the national public health institutes and other public partners, the project was able to validate the device on patient samples collected during the west African Ebola outbreak, and get it quickly approved for placement on the market.
Benefits for industry, SMEs, and patients
The industry benefitted from the collaboration with SMEs and the public partners in the consortium, such as leading European public health institutions.
The SME in the project benefitted from getting a detailed insight into workflows in mobile laboratories during outbreaks which will help them in developing future products. They also benefitted from fostering existing scientific collaborations, and establishing new ones.
However, it will be the patients who will benefit the most. The device produced by Mofina will help contain Ebola outbreaks in the future, by identifying infected patients much sooner than before.
What comes next?
The project partners would like to develop the device further, making it possible to test for a range of other infectious diseases, which are on the list of WHO priority pathogens, such as the Zika virus, dengue and Lassa fever.