Atherton Mutombwera knew from an early age that he wanted to work in healthcare. Even as he played as a child in his native Zimbabwe, he would imagine he had found a cure for HIV; as he grew up, Atherton’s siblings helped foster the idea of radically improving healthcare across the African continent. And now, having completed an MBA at Oxford’s Saïd Business School as a Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Saïd Scholar, Atherton’s dreams are on the brink of becoming reality.
Atherton is the founder and CEO of Hutano Diagnostics Ltd, a start-up which is developing a diagnostic, tracking and surveillance platform for dangerous infectious diseases in Africa. “Quick disease diagnosis is essential,” says Atherton. “The current system for diagnosis in Africa is complicated. Take Malaria for example, the most common cause of fever, headaches and muscle aches in the African region. There are 433.5 million Malaria tests each year, yielding 212 million positive tests and 242 million negative tests. The negative tests may be self-limiting viral infections, bacterial infections or EDP. If an emerging and dangerous pathogen (EDP) is suspected, there are just 14 laboratories in Africa that can analyse a patient’s blood sample.”
The logistics are time-consuming, expensive and detrimental to patient wellbeing, not to mention hardly likely to limit the spread of disease. This is where Hutano Diagnostics aims to make a difference.
“We’re developing a digital rapid diagnostic test (RDT) to provide a diagnosis from a simple finger prick within 10 minutes,” says Atherton, who, in 2015, obtained an MSc cum laude in Nanobiomedicine from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “Allied with this is an online database. The RDT sends the GPS location and test result to the online platform which is a live disease monitoring system. The online platform will also predict disease outbreak spread.”
Significantly, too, Hutano’s RDT does not need refrigeration during transportation and storage, which hugely increases product penetration as 68% of clinics in the African region do not have access to electricity. Eliminating the need for refrigeration reduces distribution costs and complexity. In practical terms, Hutano’s RDT will enable a Malaria negative patient to know what disease they have in an easy, fast and accessible way.
Help from the GEV scheme
Hutano is starting with the creation of an Ebola RDT. In time, a multiplex RDT for EDP, Yellow Fever and bacterial infection is planned, so too a methodology for helping HIV-positive patients manage their lives. An expert board of directors in place, and seed investment has been raised.
Atherton pays tribute to Oxford’s Graduate Entrepreneur Visa (GEV) scheme. “The GEV has been essential,” he says, “and the atmosphere at Oxford is also a major contributory factor to taking Hutano forward. The chance to network and bounce ideas around is invaluable, and the BioEscalator – a hub for life science innovations, providing all-important lab space – is a fantastic resource.”
With Hutano well on the way to having the requisite funding for proof of concept testing, and with formal launch of the platform planned for 2022, Atherton Mutombwera is just three years away from the realisation of his childhood dreams.