Ever heard of Daktari Diagnostics? We hadn't until recently, and we're wondering why.
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Daktari Diagnostics was established on 2008 with the sole purpose of creating “products that address the most pressing challenges in global health.” More specifically, it's focused on "delivering critical diagnostic test results" using products designed for poor countries. Sounds like a great venture, which explains why the company, co-founded by former Clinton Foundation Medical Chief Bill Rodriguez, is really good at raising money; it's pulled in $30 million since its inception.
One of the challenges in global health Daktari tackles is HIV/AIDS. To advance that work, the Gates Foundation has put in $600,000, Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund has invested $5 million, and UNITAID ponied up $2.7 million. You won’t find mention of Daktari on Gates's website; there is a small mention of the company on Merck’s website and a short write-up on the UNITAID gift.
This low profile is puzzling because Daktari is about to embark on a relatively large-scale, point-of-care HIV/AIDS journey.
Beginning in 2015, Daktari will roll out its CD4 tester in Kenya, focusing its work on remote villages and rural areas. Eventually, the company plans to expand its work to Ethiopia and South Africa, with the goal of reaching just about every sub-Saharan country in Africa.
The CD4 tester is a portable point-of-care device that measures CD4 cell counts. CD4s are white blood cells that fight infection and are also known as T-helper cells. Testing CD4 counts determines a patient’s HIV stage. Measuring this cell count can help determine whether a patient needs to start antiretroviral therapy and how well they can fight off opportunistic co-infections such as tuberculosis. The device, which is is battery-powered and fits in a backpack, is cheap, easy to use, and now offers same-day results.
Not only does the Daktari device play to the smaller, faster, cheaper ethos of the tech world, it addresses last-mile challenges in HIV/AIDS healthcare. Which brings us back to the Gates Foundation.
The number of HIV/AIDS grants awarded by Gates decreased from 47 to 26 over the past year, but it still gave out over $112 million in HIV/AIDS-related grants in 2014. Since Daktari is a for-profit company, any money funneled their way would move through the foundation’s program-related investments (PRI).
The PRI program is similar to Gates’s grantmaking programs and funds generally come in the form of low-interest loans. The foundation will only invest in a company if its work meets the foundation’s objectives in global development, global health, or U.S. program grantmaking. No doubt the hope of many companies scrambling for Gates PRI money is that once Gates backs the company, other investors will fall in line.
Gates doesn’t make a huge number of annual PRIs and it’s pretty tight-lipped regarding exactly how much money it invests in a company. Its website only mentions a handful of HIV/AIDS-related investments, and over the past year, the PRI program has been pretty quiet.
All of which explains why the link between Daktari and Gates isn't better known. That said, we're betting that Daktari itself, with its innovative products, will become quite well-known in coming years.