Partners join CD4 Initiative

A project developing a quick and cheap test to analyse the immune system of people living with HIV/AIDS today announced new international partners. Five organisations will be working collaboratively, as part of ImperialCollegeLondon’s CD4 Initiative, to make this test a reality within the next four years.

The CD4 Initiative aims to develop an easy to use device which can measure the number of T cells possessing CD4 protein (CD4+ T-lymphocytes) in a patient’s blood.

These cells play a central role in orchestrating the immune system, and HIV infection leads to a progressive reduction in their numbers. Healthcare workers rely on a CD4+ T-cell count to make decisions about how patients should be treated and when they should begin antiretroviral therapy.

The CD4 Initiative is housed at ImperialCollege and is funded by an $8.6m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By working together, the new partners and Imperial aim to create the much-needed device in the shortest possible time.

The Initiative has awarded grants to Australia’s Macfarlane Burnet Institute; and to Beckman Coulter, CornellUniversity, PATH, and Zyomyx which are based in the USA.

Many people in countries with limited resources are currently unable to access CD4 testing. The new, cheap test, specially designed for use in such countries, will work with finger prick blood and have a simple read-out, possibly similar to a home pregnancy test. It should enable patients to receive their results within minutes of the test being carried out.

Current testing systems are expensive to buy and run and require specially trained operators. Issues such as a lack of appropriate infrastructure can mean that testing facilities are inaccessible to those in the developing world, particularly those living in rural areas.

Dr Hans-Georg Batz, Director of the CD4 Initiative from the Division of Medicine at Imperial, said: ‘There are 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS and this test will mean that many will gain access to CD4 testing for the first time. All of our partners produced strong and practical proposals for this new test and their experience in the diagnostics industry will really help bring this test to fruition.’

Dr Steven Reid, the CD4 Initiative Project Manager, also from the Division of Medicine at Imperial, commented: ‘This is an incredibly important project. Even though anti-retroviral treatments are reaching more and more people in limited-resource countries, there are still huge numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS without access to essential CD4 testing – something taken for granted in the UK. Current tests aren’t appropriate and what is needed is a new solution.

‘This is a new way of working for Imperial because we are funding several organisations to work on the same product development. This unique collaborative approach means that we will provide the best possible test in the shortest time,’ he added.