Chemist Hassan Azzazy, associate dean of graduate studies & research at the American University in Cairo (AUC), has been working for years on a technology to use nanoparticles of gold to diagnose Hepatitis C, a disease that affects 14.7% of Egyptians. The end result is a cheaper testing technique that takes a fraction of the time the current two-step Hepatitis C test takes.
Today, the AUC announced that after two years of negotiations they have managed to set up a spin-off company whose first business will be producing Hepatitis C diagnostic kits based on Azzazy’s research.
The company, called D-Kimia, is the first spin-off company from a university in Egypt, with the aim to transforming research from laboratories into a profitable business.
“We want to use modern technologies to control modern contagious diseases and cancers,” says Azzazy who’s also the co-founder of D-Kimia. “We start by looking at a problem and we search for a solution to it. Our aim is to find the simplest solution rather than using a certain technology. We are currently working on diagnostic kits for tuberculosis and certain cancers as well.”
The technology targets the oligonucleotides in the virus RNA, at a region that is common across all genotypes of HCV. The researchers are also working on another tool that can determine the specific genotype of virus when an infection is found to determine the best approach for treatment.
Ideally, says Azzazy, the tool can be developed into a cartridge that can be used by doctors directly rather than patients needing to go to for testing elsewhere. “We would like to be able to develop the tool for “near patient testing”, where a doctor can diagnose the patient on the spot. this will help us increase the number of people who know their status by making it easier and more affordable.”
While Hepatitis C is the most widespread disease in Egypt, millions of people carry the virus and do not know their status. Many people get infected through blood transfusions in the healthcare that result from blood donations from unknowing carriers and poor screening in hospitals.
“Diagnosis is part of the plan to control Hepatitis C. It continues to spread in Egypt because people don’t know of they are positive and thus continue to infect others. If they knew, they can be the starting point of controlling the spread of the virus,” says Karim Hussein, CEO of Di-Kimia and co-founder with Azzazy.
Azzazy is hopeful he can share his experience with others so that other universities in Egypt can do the same and produce marketable products from their research. “In my team alone there are many students that I am sure can in the future be entrepreneurs who produce other new companies,” he says.