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UWC Researcher Dr Imogen Wright: Runner-Up for the African Innovation Prize

 UWC Researcher Dr Imogen Wright: Runner-Up for the African Innovation Prize

The University of the Western Cape’s South African Bioinformatics Institute (UWC-SANBI) has won the runner-up prize at the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) Awards in Gaborone, Botswana – widely recognized as the premier award for innovation on the African continent.  

Ten finalists were announced in May 2016, with three prizes awarded at the prize giving on 23 June 2016. 

Dr Imogen Wright, a 30-year-old scientist from UWC’s SANBI, walked away with the second place prize of $25,000 for developing the exatype software solution with UWC spin-off company Hyrax Biosciences.

Exatype is a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment. According to the World Health Organization, 71% of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in Africa. Until now, government's response has been to ensure access to treatment for all. However, a growing number of people on ARVs are resistant to drug regimens, leading to failure of the therapy, exacerbating the continent’s HIV/AIDS burden. 

Exatype processes the highly complex data produced by advanced “next-generation” DNA sequencing of the HIV DNA in a patient’s blood. Through a simple report, it detects drugs to which the patient is resistant, highlighting the need to avoid these to ensure successful treatment. Exatype has the potential to contribute towards effectively managing HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also holds promise in helping detect drug resistance for other disease burdens such as Tuberculosis, malaria and antimicrobial resistance.

The Innovation Prize for Africa is an initiative launched in 2011 by the African Innovation Foundation (AIF). IPA honours and encourages innovative achievements that contribute toward developing new products, increasing efficiency or saving costs in Africa. Specifically, the award targets technological breakthroughs in five main areas: manufacturing & service industry; health & well-being; agriculture & agribusiness; environment, energy & water; and ICTs. 

“I’m thrilled to receive this award from the wonderful initiative that is the Innovation Prize for Africa,” says Dr Wright.  “All of the finalists were deserving winners, and I’m honoured that our work has been acknowledged in this way.  This award will enable us to realise our vision in developing similar solutions for TB, malaria and antimicrobial resistance among others.”  

“We are extremely excited to receive this reward in recognition of our work,” adds SANBI Professor – and Hyrax Managing Director – Simon Travers. “Our focus is on developing innovative solutions to address the global crisis of drug resistance that will make a real difference in people’s lives, both within the continent of Africa and globally.” 

IPA 2016 attracted a record 3,600-plus innovators and received 985 successful submissions from 46 African countries, addressing the theme “Made in Africa”. African ingenuity this year showcased new breakthroughs in malaria and other public health burdens, smart solutions for farmers and dynamic energy initiatives, among others.

The winning innovations this year impressed the expert panel of judges, led by Amolo Ng’Weno: “The standards were very high, and it was difficult to make a decision; everyone is a winner and all of them were addressing major social issues. I congratulate the winners and look forward to the next five years of IPA”.