Contributing to the death of TB
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most common causes of death in South Africa. It is also one of the most opportunistic infections in HIV co-infected patients, of which South Africa has more than five million. The disease has a substantial negative economic impact; it causes a significant decline in gross domestic product and better diagnostics are urgently needed to limit mortality, morbidity and transmission.
To this end the IRISA-TB assay being developed by Antrum Biotech is designed to provide rapid, same-day diagnosis of extra-pulmonary TB to reduce morbidity and mortality in TB patients.
“TB makes a major contribution to healthcare costs and [is a] burden at all levels of the system,” says Khilona Radia, chief executive of Antrum Biotech. “Quicker diagnosis means quicker treatment, thereby reducing human pain, suffering and death.”
Antrum Biotech, in addition to working towards the reduction of TB rates through rapid diagnosis, is also focused on contributing towards a knowledge-based economy and sustainable wealth creation. The company provides jobs as a small-to-medium enterprise, builds sustainable research capacity and develops a pipeline of products that increases the capacity of South Africa to improve its biotechnology sector.
“In keeping with these objectives we are playing a role in setting up a new innovation hub, together with several small businesses and the University of Cape Town (UCT),” says Radia. “Working on these creative disrupter projects absolutely inspire me as they change the way we do things and have a remarkable impact on our society.”
Radia’s passion for business and making a difference began early. At the age of 12 she was running a stall at the local flea market and continued to run her own business while finishing school, completing a business degree and achieving an honours in investment and international management.
“I went to work at FNB as an executive management trainee, which gave me a grounding in management, and I became a Certified Associate of the Institute of Bankers,” says Radia. “This is where I started to get involved in out-of-the-box projects and discovered a love for them and their potential.”
A stint in the UK as a business process engineering consultant evolved into director of marketing and sales operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as at several offshore destinations. It was here that Radia worked with global brands at board level and gained in-depth insight into how they operate and direct growth.
“Home and the desire to facilitate capacity development in South Africa called me back and I started a consulting firm,” she adds. “It is here that I worked with the government on economic development projects to bring about job growth and ended up on my path to Antrum Biotech.”
“I currently serve as the chief executive of Antrum Biotech, managing its financial, operational, marketing and strategic activities,” says Radia. “I oversee a team of scientists and clinicians whom I engaged in product development and clinical trial activities.
“I am also involved in capacity development activities at UCT through providing co-training to post-doctoral scientists, the development of laboratory infrastructure and teaching entrepreneurial skills. These activities are facilitated through several grant awards co-held by UCT and Antrum Biotech.”
Radia worked with the department of trade and industry, provincial government and the Chamber of Commerce to find ways of igniting foreign direct investment and identifying the difficulties and red tape associated with the growth of small businesses. One of her areas of interest was to find links where academia and business could work together. She started with Antrum Biotech by helping to write up the business plan to raise its first round of funding and the rest, as they say, is history.
Committed to bringing about change in biotech research, TB, skills development and community, Radia is focused on keeping Antrum Biotech at the forefront of growth and innovation.
“The greatest challenges are sourcing biotech funding in an environment that is not as mature as the international arena, and finding highly skilled staff with some experience in biotech,” says Radia. “A reduction in TB rates through rapid diagnosis has several advantages for our country, and our work is in synergy with South Africa’s National Research and Development Stra–tegy, the priorities of the National Research Foundation, the department of science and technology and the Medical Research Council.”