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Una Ryan Searching for Riches to Deliver Inexpensive Diagnostics to the Poor

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Obama,” she quips. Yet in all seriousness, she believes that even small donations, if made in high numbers, could add up to a lot of money.

She has recruited volunteers to help the group write grant proposals, and she is out pressing the flesh at places like the McGovern Institute to find major donors. (Yet she’s no hanger on; last night she was one of the featured speakers for a GSAS Harvard Biotechnology Club event at Harvard Medical School.) The nonprofit also aims to generate revenue from companies that license its technology for the U.S. market and other parts of the developed world.

It’s not the first time Ryan has taken on the cause of developing medical technologies that could be applied in both wealthy markets like the U.S. and impoverished nations. As CEO at Needham, MA-based Avant Immunotherapeutics (now Celldex Therapeutics), for example, Ryan pushed for the development of vaccinations for the lucrative traveler’s diarrhea market while applying the same technology to treat diarrhea that often causes deaths to children in developing countries. The big difference at Diagnostics For All is that its primary mission is to apply its innovation to the health needs of developing countries, while Ryan’s previous gigs were at companies set up primarily to make money and bring returns to investors.

“We went for a completely different model here,” Ryan says. “George’s [Whitesides] point was that if you start with a for-profit and say you’ll do these things in the developing world, you’ll never get to it, because the venture capitalists make you exit before you ever get to do the developing world piece.”

Una Ryan

Una Ryan

Diagnostics For All is part of a global effort to prevent deaths and illnesses that strike people in the developing world due to a lack of access to modern medical facilities and treatments. To provide timely diagnoses to these people, the nonprofit chose cheap materials like paper for its devices. And unlike other diagnostic systems, the paper-based tests don’t require electricity to power fluid pumps or clean water to conduct lab tests.

A standard desktop wax printer can churn out sheets of thousands of the tests per day, each one costing … Next Page »

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