Startup targets HIV drug resistance in developing countries

David Raiser and Iain MacLeod
David Raiser and Iain MacLeod

June 15, 2016— A low-cost test for HIV drug resistance developed at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health could help clinicians in developing countries more quickly determine the best antiretroviral (ARV) drug for their patients. The researchers behind the technology, one of whom formed the startup Aldatu Biosciences, Inc., say that the test could be implemented within three years—and has the potential to reduce new infections and save millions of dollars in health care costs.

While potent ARV drugs exist to treat HIV infection, the virus is a constantly moving target, accumulating mutations and developing into strains that are resistant to a certain drug. When drug-resistant strains go undetected, clinicians may prescribe a medication that is in limited supply to patients on whom it is ineffective, and those patients may unknowingly transmit the resistant virus to others—for example, from mother to child during birth—compounding the problem.

The licensed drug resistance genotyping platform, called Pan-Degenerate Amplification and Adaptation (PANDAA), was invented by co-founder and chief science officer Iain MacLeod and by Christopher Rowley, MPH ’04, who serves as a consultant for the company and is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. MacLeod and Rowley were working as research associates in the lab of Max Essex, the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard Chan, when they developed the technology.

MacLeod cofounded Aldatu with David Raiser in 2014, when Raiser was a doctoral student at Harvard Medical School. Later that year, the startup joined the Harvard Innovation Labs’ Venture Incubation Program and won the Bertarelli Foundation Grand Prize in the Harvard Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge. Raiser now serves as CEO.

Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD) helped the research team protect their intellectual property and advised them on the formation of a startup; Aldatu is incorporated as a public benefit corporation. The OTD announced a licensing agreement with Aldatu on May 18 granting the company exclusive rights to Harvard patents filed on PANDAA, covering application of the PANDAA technology in the fields of clinical diagnostics and in vitro research. It also includes important global access provisions and provides a royalty-free license in the developing world that will help keep the cost as low as possible.

— Adapted from a press release by Caroline Perry, Office of Technology Development