OliLux Biosciences will expand its research and clinical operations to develop diagnostic and treatment monitoring tools for the rapid detection and management of tuberculosis in resource-limited settings.
March 18, 2021 - OliLux Biosciences, a public benefit corporation committed to ending endemic diseases through affordable innovation, announced today a $400,000 pilot award from Open Philanthropy. OliLux pioneered the rapid detection of tuberculosis (TB) at the point of care by offering a solution that significantly improves the traditional approach to diagnosing this disease: the visual detection of infecting bacteria under a microscope. Using a novel solvatochromic trehalose dye, DMN-Tre, that becomes fluorescent only when active TB-causing bacteria are present, OliLux offers a simple, effective, and scalable way to accurately diagnose TB. OliLux’ streamlined protocol eliminates numerous time-consuming wash steps and allows accurate detection of TB at the point of care in resource-limited settings. Funding from Open Philanthropy will support a new program that expands the use of DMN-Tre for treatment monitoring and detection of drug-resistant TB.
“Fast and accurate diagnosis is critical to saving lives and preventing further spread of tuberculosis. The Olilux platform has the potential to expand the reach of current medicines,” said Heather Youngs, a program officer at Open Philanthropy. “We are thankful to our partners at Open Philanthropy for their support”, said Dr. Mireille Kamariza, CEO of OliLux Biosciences. “OliLux is excited to embark on this journey and create advanced drug-resistance assays. Our mission is to build a successful program that has the potential to significantly impact drug-resistant TB detection anywhere, including in low resource settings.”
The timeliness of this award cannot be overstated. As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, other infectious diseases – particularly TB – have silently increased their death tolls. The StopTB Partnership estimates that a global 3-month lockdown could add 6.3 million cases of TB between 2020 and 2025, threatening to unravel the progress made in the past decade. Further, in the 2020 Global TB Report, the World Health Organization projects that half a million people globally developed drug-resistant TB in 2019, making it a major health threat that places a disproportionate burden on health, financial, and socio-economic systems. Treatment options are limited, expensive, often toxic, and can last up to 2 years, causing job disruptions and income loss to patients and their families. Today, only a quarter of new drug-resistant TB cases are detected and reported, and existing tests take weeks to provide accurate diagnosis, leading to inappropriate therapy that further breeds drug resistance. To control this, significant progress needs to be made in developing tools that can rapidly and specifically detect pathogens that cause TB. This is where OliLux comes in.
OliLux Biosciences emerged from Stanford University based on the invention of DMN-Tre, published in Science Translational Medicine by Dr. Mireille Kamariza and Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, two renowned biochemists known for their scientific leadership in glyco-microbiology. Rationally designed to hijack the molecular machinery of mycobacteria, DMN-Tre fluoresces only when it comes in contact with live, metabolically active TB-causing bacteria. This unique biochemical feature results in DMN-Tre’s superior ability to rapidly and accurately detect live and active TB, which could clinically translate into an effective tool for drug-resistant TB detection and monitoring. Applications and practical utility of the DMN-Tre technology have been demonstrated in several peer-reviewed scientific publications and featured in several prominent news outlets, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute news, HuffPost South Africa, and Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).
Together with co-founders Dr. Widya Mulyasasmita, a life science investor and entrepreneur, and Dr. Manu Prakash, Stanford Professor of Bioengineering and an avid proponent of frugal science, Drs. Kamariza and Bertozzi established OliLux in 2019 as a public benefit corporation with a mission to leverage scientific innovation to create affordable, simple, and reliable solutions for managing infectious diseases in resource-limited settings. Since its founding, OliLux has assembled an international team of scientists, entrepreneurs, and advisors, including Dr. Bavesh Kana, a prominent TB researcher and Professor at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
“We are delighted and honored to partner with Open Philanthropy to progress our new technology for the benefit of TB patients and the global health mission”, said Dr. Bertozzi. “We see DMN-Tre as a game changing reagent for the public health community and look forward to pursuing next generation technologies at OliLux to meet the world’s evolving needs.” Dr. Kana, whose infectious disease laboratory pivoted to help in the fight against COVID-19, said that “The Covid pandemic has taught us many things, among which is that the world was, and is still, underprepared for the diagnosis of infectious disease pandemics, be they bacterial or viral. The development of novel, scalable diagnostic reagents that can be applied at point of care is an important global health priority and OliLux’s work in this space is indeed commendable.”
To deliver on their global mission, OliLux has established several key partnerships in TB-endemic regions, such as South Africa and Southeast Asia. By providing this pilot award, Open Philanthropy joins OliLux and their network of collaborators to accelerate and amplify access to effective tools for the detection, management, and ultimately eradication of TB worldwide.
About OliLux Biosciences
OliLux Biosciences is a public benefit corporation founded to leverage scientific innovation to tackle global public health challenges. The company focuses on developing accurate diagnostic and treatment management tools that can reach patients and care providers in remote corners of the world where they are needed the most. OliLux’ core technology is a proprietary fluorescent trehalose probe specifically designed for rapid TB detection and treatment monitoring. In the long term, OliLux plans to develop additional molecular tools for a wider array of diseases. For more information, please visit www.oliluxbio.com, stay connected on LinkedIn, and follow @OliluxB on Twitter.
About Open Philanthropy
Open Philanthropy identifies outstanding giving opportunities, makes grants, follows the results, and publishes their findings. Their mission is to give as effectively as they can and share their findings openly so that anyone can build on their work. Through research and grantmaking, Open Philanthropy hopes to make philanthropy go especially far in terms of improving lives. For further information, please visit their website at https://www.openphilanthropy.org.
Ruby E Dewi