Announcing USAID Grant Recipients for Development of New Diagnostics

Announcing USAID Grant Recipients for Development of New Diagnostics to Eliminate NTDs, Lymphatic Filariasis and Onchocerciasisrcia

July 2021--The Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (a program of the Task Force for Global Health) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announces the recipients of the 2020 Request for Proposals (RFP): Optimizing NTD diagnostics and sampling strategies for low-prevalence settings.

As neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) make progress toward elimination, disease prevalence declines and the need for accurate diagnostic tests become increasingly apparent. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) new Road Map for NTDs specifically highlights the need for new diagnostic tools as a critical element to achieve NTD control and elimination targets. The RFP was released to provide funding for development of diagnostic technologies and statistical methods designed around the requirements defined in the newly published WHO Target Product Profiles (TPPs) for lymphatic filariasis (LF) and onchocerciasis (oncho). TPPs describe the ideal and minimally acceptable characteristics of health products aimed at particular diseases and/or programmatic use cases. The availability of WHO TPPs for LF and oncho presents test developers with new opportunities to develop diagnostic tools that meet programmatic needs.  

“There is urgency around these selected projects, as national elimination programs have greatly matured and outstripped the original use case for the current diagnostics for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis. Additionally, we are very pleased to bring new companies into the fold, to promote diversity of products,” said Joseph Shott, USAID NTD Division. 

Twenty-eight proposals were submitted in response to the RFP. Proposals were reviewed by an independent panel of experts. After intensive review, the following projects have been selected for funding: 

High-Sensitivity, High-Specificity Biplex Ov16/OVOC3261 Rapid Diagnostic Test

Principle investigator: Marco Biamonte

Organization: Drugs and Diagnostics for Tropical Diseases (DDTD)

The newly released WHO TPPs for oncho elimination mapping and mass drug administration (MDA) stopping decisions defined extremely stringent specificity requirements, >99.8%. It is unlikely that such a specificity can be reached using traditional antibody-based monoplex rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). Therefore, the goal of this project is to further optimize an existing RDT by adding a second biomarker to develop a biplex RDT that can be used to support oncho elimination mapping and/or MDA stopping decisions.

Onchocerciasis LAMP assay to optimize diagnostics and sampling strategies for low-prevalence settings in Cameroon

Principle investigator: Achim Hoerauf

Organization: University Hospital Bonn

Currently, national onchocerciasis programs are struggling with a lack of high-quality diagnostics that perform well in low prevalence settings. Nucleic-acid based diagnostic tests are particularly well suited for use in low prevalence settings because they tend to offer very high sensitivity and specificity.  Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) methods generally produce highly reliable results, however, PCR requires highly trained personnel and expensive equipment. Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assays are attractive alternatives for use in field-settings because they do not require highly specialized equipment and they offer a rapid, visual read out at a much lower cost than PCR. This project will attempt to establish both methods for use on human blood samples in accordance with the new TPPs.

Rapid Diagnostic Test For Lymphatic Filariasis Surveillance: Prioritization of Antigen Candidates Complementary to Wb123

Principle investigator: Marco Biamonte

Organization: Drugs and Diagnostics for Tropical Diseases (DDTD)

The specificity requirements defined in the newly released WHO TPPs for LF are unlikely to be achieved using a single antigen test. Therefore, this project will explore five novel antigen candidates for use in parallel with a well-characterized LF antigen, Wb123. The antigen candidates (initially validated by National Institutes of Health [NIH] colleagues) will be prioritized based on how well they work in a lateral flow format, the strength of the signal they produce, the clinical sensitivity and specificity they exhibit, and how well they perform when combined with Wb123. The goal of the project is to identify at least one antigen candidate that performs well enough to justify full assay development. 

Efficient post-elimination surveillance strategies for NTDs

Principle Investigator: Emanuele Giorgi 

Organization: Lancaster University

Once elimination of NTDs is achieved, national control programs must continue to monitor for resurgence of infection, usually with fewer financial resources. The use of traditional survey methods to identify early signs of resurgence of infection requires very large sample sizes and thus comes with very high costs.

Model-based geostatistical methods are a promising alternative to traditional surveys. This project will apply an existing methodology to the post-elimination settings with the following aims:

  1. To develop spatio-temporal models to create projections on the risk of resurgence based on geographical distribution of prevalence.
  2. To use model results to develop efficient and affordable designs for networks of sentinel sites to enable continued monitoring of prevalence in areas at high risk of resurgence.

The model will be developed into a user-friendly web application that can be used by national control program personnel to make decisions regarding post-elimination surveillance.

All four projects are based on ambitious timelines and are expected to contribute to the global NTD diagnostic agenda. 

 “Congratulations to all of the recipients and thank you to everyone who submitted a proposal. The challenge to develop these diagnostics is large but imperative in the fight to beat NTDs,” said Pat Lammie, program director, NTD-SC. “We look forward to working with these principal investigators on their studies and diagnostic developments.”

 About: 

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help people progress beyond assistance.

The Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) includes researchers, program implementers, and their supporters with the shared goal of optimizing the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. The COR-NTD secretariat is the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center, a program at The Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, GA, USA.

Photo credit: Billy Weeks

For media inquiries, please contact:

Emily Owens, Communication Manager

Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center

eowens [at] taskforce.org

 

    Diagnostic testing for NTDs-Photo credit Billy Weeks