How a piece of construction paper led to a revolution in HIV diagnostics
Worldwide, only around 70 percent of patients infected with HIV are aware that they are even carrying the virus and less have the virus under control. This fatal information deficit is particularly widespread in the developing nations of Africa, where poor infrastructure seriously restricts access to reliable diagnostics. The cobas® Plasma Separation Card could make a real and lasting change to improving viral suppression. It is the product of courage and of passionate collaboration.
These millions of people live in the less developed parts of Africa – in rural regions where there are no laboratories, hospitals or even paved roads. And they carry the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which requires intensive treatment. But how can doctors control a disease that they cannot adequately diagnose because of the poor infrastructure available to them?
In Africa, blood samples often have to travel extremely long distances to reach the nearest lab. The combination of extreme heat and high humidity during transport has an adverse effect on the samples, usually rendering them unusable by the time they arrive at their destination. The next problem to contend with is that, following blood collection, the blood plasma required for HIV testing cannot be separated on-site.
Hand-crafted in California
That's how things stood back in spring of 2015, when colleagues in the Manufacturing Service & Technology unit on Mannheim's high-tech campus received a parcel in the post from Pleasanton, California. Inside they found something the size of a credit card, made of various layers of paper. Their colleagues in Roche Molecular Diagnostics had quite literally crafted a prototype from construction paper for an idea that could solve one of the biggest problems in African HIV diagnostics.
Two years later, these very properties have been brought together in the cobas® Plasma Separation Card. This innovation renders venous blood collection every bit as superfluous as a centrifuge or similar equipment. A tiny finger-prick is all it takes to collect the blood on the cobas® Plasma Separation Card, where the plasma is separated and rendered suitable for transport.
And transport is no longer a problem either. The card stabilises the dried plasma so that it can endure extreme heat and humidity. It is also the only instrument for blood plasma sample collection that meets the World Health Organisation's sensitivity standard for determining viral load. This means that doctors could, for example, treat an expectant mother with AIDS so that her child will not contract the virus at birth.
Cooperation: The key to success
The road to breakthroughs like this is usually a long one. In October 2015, it led Ronald Hofstadt, Andreas Trapp and their colleagues in the Manufacturing Service & Technology unit to their colleagues in Production, and Elmar Jentzsch was named Operations Product Lead. After all, once this project reached the banks of the Altrhein in Mannheim, a steady hand at the tiller was needed to coordinate purchasing and suppliers, calculate manufacturing costs and, of course, keep in contact with both Pleasanton and Rotkreuz.
A lighthouse project in diagnostics
Not only has the cobas® Plasma Separation Card enjoyed a meteoric rise to become an important component of the Roche's Group's Global Access Programme, it has also become a global lighthouse project for diagnostics A project that is powered by a good measure of courage, passion and a "can-do" attitude.
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