Student Helps New HIV Technology Reach Patients
For 1 in 10 people treated for HIV, the virus is resistant to the go-to antiretroviral drugs. And for cash-strapped health systems around the world, drug-resistance testing is too expensive. But Aldatu Biosciences is changing that, says MPH student Brad Padilla, who completed his practicum at the Cambridge-based startup this summer.
“Their technology is helping to overcome what were assumed to be barriers in drug resistance testing,” Padilla says. Instead of standard DNA and RNA sequencing, Aldatu’s test only looks at the six specific parts of the HIV genome where the relevant mutations would be. That makes for a much cheaper test, and potentially for cost-effective testing of everyone entering treatment. “It’s a technology that could change a lot of people’s lives,” Padilla says.
Because the technology is so new, a lot has to happen for it to go into widespread use—which is where Padilla comes in. For the first half of his practicum, Padilla researched the regulatory pathways Aldatu’s test would need to go through to start being used throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The buzz word is ‘harmonization,’’ Padilla says. “Organizations are trying to harmonize the regulation of these tests” across countries. In his research, Padilla soon found “harmonization at this point is a work in progress, so for the most part each country has its own standards.”
He gathered all of the information available on those standards—more of a challenge than he expected. In developing countries with developing healthcare systems, he says, “there isn’t always a rule of thumb in place. It was a lot of reading and emailing, and intermittent phone calls, because you’re trying to determine the rule of the land when maybe it’s not written yet.”
For the second half of his practicum, Padilla looked at other drug-resistant diseases Aldatu’s technology could be used for. “It would make sense to focus on diseases where the current diagnostics are either expensive or lengthy,” he says. “Lyme disease and tuberculosis are just a few diseases where they wanted to collect more information.” Padilla brought together data on both to create frameworks of their global diagnostic landscapes.
All of this was valuable experience, Padilla says. It was also a chance to see just how much passion is involved in creating new medical technologies. “You can tell that the people you’re working with believe in what they’re doing, and you can tell they’re working because they believe in the technology and they believe in the change that it can make,” he says.
Since his practicum, Aldatu Biosciences has received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.