It’s often a good idea for startup founders to have a close familiarity with their product. For one scientist, contracting the tropical disease for which he’s attempting to provide a revolutionary diagnosis was not part of the plan.
GlowDX was founded by Honduras native Yensi Flores and her two Irish colleagues, Blaine Doyle and Aisling Finn. It set out to tackle a scourge of the developing world by making cheap and reliable tropical disease diagnostics available to people worldwide.
First on the biotech company’s hitlist is dengue fever which is carried by mosquitos and affects an estimated 100m people every year.
“We focus on making inexpensive and easy-to-use diagnostics for developing countries to start with… Dengue fever affects thousands of people every year in my country. It causes the death of a lot of people,” said Ms Flores.
“The government doesn’t have enough resources to solve this problem. I’m very thankful to IndieBio for taking us as a team to solve this huge problem that is not only in my country but across Latin America — for example, in Brazil there have been 1m cases so far this year.”
The viral infection causes flu-like symptoms with sudden fever and acute joint and muscle pain.
It’s an issue with which Ms Flores is all too familiar, having previously contracted it, while five family members have suffered the same misfortune in the past month alone.
For her co-founder and Kilkenny native Mr Doyle, a trip to Honduras during the IndieBio programme had a similar result, despite him taking all the necessary precautions. Against the advice of doctors, Mr Doyle boarded a plane and endured a tortuous flight back to Ireland despite suffering from the fever’s worst effects in order to present at Wednesday’s demo day.
“It’s horrible and poor Blaine, he has dengue right now. He made it back to Ireland. It’s very risky. Doctors suggested not to go and take a plane because it can make it worse,” Ms Flores said.
“It’s not contagious in Ireland because there’s no mosquitos but he’s very weak because of the travel. But he made all this effort because he really believes in this company.”
At a cost of up to $300, current diagnostic methods are expensive in a country where the average monthly wage is just $50 more.
Furthermore, current diagnostics are slow and require top level expertise, with just one lab in Honduras up to the task at present.
GlowDX is on the cusp of changing that with a $10, one-hour, portable test set to be ready in as little as three months. A quick diagnosis can stop the spread of the disease and prevent wrong and potentially fatal treatment being administered.
“Dengue can be disguised as a flu or a gastrointestinal infection and if you take antibiotics, aspirin, or ibuprofen you can actually promote bleeding or destroy your liver,” Ms Flores said.
“So if you have dengue, a [diagnosis] will tell you you can only take paracetamol to control the fever; you cannot take any other medication or you [could] destroy your liver or you’ll bleed out in the case of aspirin.”
GlowDX’s development will continue in Ireland with a subsidiary to be established in Honduras for distribution.
From there, the rest of Latin and South America as well as Africa and much of Asia could benefit from the research, which Ms Flores says is testament to the IndieBio mentors who encouraged GlowDX to adopt a global outlook from the outset to maximise its potential.
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