By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown News
The small San Diego-based nonprofit Drugs & Diagnostics for Tropical Diseases (DDTD) held its second annual gala event Health For All Humanity atop the University Club at the Symphony Tower’s roof Downtown on Oct. 6. The charity aims to direct philanthropic dollars toward neglected diseases that affect millions in impoverished countries. Many of these diseases have known cures, but the impediment to getting people treatment is properly diagnosed them first. The organization’s team works on developing diagnostic tools that are affordable, fast, and can be used en masse so that other organizations, like the World Health Organization, knows where best to focus on conducting a mass drug administration like a cavvine or other preventative medicines. DDTD’s tools also helps create maps after a mass drug administration (MDA) so health officials know if the targeted disease was successfully eradicated.
The event honored other people whose work helps fight these oft-overlooked (in the West) diseases that affect vulnerable populations. The Field Award was given to Dr. Matthew Waxman, an assistant professor at UCLA, for his international volunteer work, which includes working in an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone during the 2015 outbreak and serving at a trauma stabilization unit in Iraq during the battle to take Mosul. Waxman pointed out that during the Ebola epidemic, 30,000 people in Sierra Leone died from Ebola but in that same time period in the same country, 200,000 people died of malaria. While in the U.S., he researched the outcomes of people who were co-infected with malaria and Ebola (they were more likely to die than if they had just one of the diseases).
The second honoree was Dr. Barry Dunin, the founder and CEO of Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD) Vault, who received the Passion in Science Award. The Vault is a way for scientists around the world to work together to find the cure to diseases. In his speech, he shared about a scientist in South Africa who discovered a compound that could treat drug-resistant strands of malaria. By uploading his work to the Vault, he was able to make a series of connections that eventually led him to an executive at Pfizer. The executive was able to share what already FDA-approved medicines had that compound in them, even if they were used for other purposes. With this knowledge, those medicines were repurposed to fight the deadly disease because they were already known to be safe in humans, which helped avoid up to 15 years of testing and approvals if the scientist had developed an entirely new drug.
Guests were fed chicken tikka masala and entertained by Indian dancers in between presentations by the honorees and DDTD founder and CEO Marco Biamonte. Biamonte shared about current projects the group is taking on and gave specific metrics of what they have accomplished so far. Currently, they are working to detect the diseases Laois, river blindness, Buruli ulcer, and lymphatic filariasis in order to help eliminate them. Through ticket sales, the silent auction, and an ask at the end, the nonprofit hoped to raise $25,000-$30,000 — the money needed to manufacture 5,000 of the diagnostic tools so they can be deployed in four countries to test their accuracy. The group invented the diagnostic tool and have preliminary data it works, but it has yet to be tested in the field. According to numbers provided by DDTD, the gala far exceeded that— raising around $51,000.
DDTD is filling a missing niche in global efforts to eradicate neglected diseases that plague impoverished countries. The philanthropic event supported their future work as they collaborate with other health organizations.
“Our objective is to bring the assays that are currently in development all the way to the finish line… We also want to keep innovating, not just in terms of the numbers of diseases we want to look at, but I think it’s very important to bring new technology to test for multiple diseases at the same time,” Biamonte said. “The burden of these neglected tropical diseases is immense and we at DDTD are trying our best to address them.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at Kendra@sdnews.com.