Meet Privail, a new way to fight the spread of HIV

Steven Loeb · March 21, 2015 · Short URL:

The company developed a low-cost, easy to use, device for early detection of HIV and other diseases

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If you are a child of the 80s, or early 90s, then I'm sure you will remember the name Ryan White. 

White was an teenager from Kokomo, Indiana, who was a hemophiliac. He became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment and was subsequently expelled from his middle school as a result of his infection. The story, and subsequent legal battle, became a national news story, and White was turned into a poster child for HIV/AIDS awareness. He died in 1990, but had become such a big deal by that point that he even had a terrible song dedicated to him by Michael Jackson. That is how much the HIV crisis had hit the public consciousness at the time.

In subsequent years, the fight against HIV and AIDS has definitely faded somewhat, at least in this country. Ask someone what disease they are most afraid of catching, and I bet you that Ebola would beat out AIDS, even though I don't think a single American citizen has yet died of. Yet overseas, especially in parts of Africa and Asia, HIV is rampant, and the fight still rages on to stop the spread of the disease. 

Privail, the winner of the People's Choice Award at last month's first ever Vator Splash Health competition, has figured out a simpler, cheaper way to catch diseases, including HIV, early, and cure it before it can be spread to others.

I spoke to Anwaar Al-Zireeni, co-founder and CEO of Privail, and Christopher Ategeka, co-founder and COO, about the company, what its mission is and why it was so important to fight HIV before any other disease.

What is Privail?

Privail is developing point-of-care diagnostics for the early detection of infectious diseases, with an initial focus on HIV.

Unlike current diagnostic methods, Privail's test detects the virus itself and is available in a simple, low-cost and portable device. By getting tested immediately, patients can receive earlier and more effective treatment.

"The main issue is the lack of timely diagnostics. Early detection allows for earlier treatment, but most don't have acess to these types of diagnostic," Al-Zireeni said. "54% of people with HIV are unaware that they have it until they start showing symptoms and by then it is too late. They are 11 times more likely to die in a year, and are at higher risk of spreading the disease."

There are several reasons that they are not gaining access to early detection, including the cost, as well as technological limitations. For example, most early detect method right now test for antibodies, which means that the immune system has to have already begun fighting the disease, meaning it has already been in the person's system for a while. Or they test the patient's RNA, which can detect it earlier, but is also very expensive.

Ultimately, the current the tests either take too long to get results, or too expensive for most people to afford, resulting in people not being able to get that early diagnosis to head it off. 

"Privail's detection method just detects the virus itself, and is not dependent on the immune system, or on extracting genetic material," said Al-Zireeni. "The virus is there, and we can detect it directly, with materials that are low in cost."

Here is how the device works: it is sort of like a cross between a pregnancy test and diabetes test, where all that is required is a small amount of blood from a finger prick, and within minutes, a patient will obtain easy-to-read results in the form of a color output (red or blue) or a digital output (“+” or “-“).

"What is currently offered, the affordable diagnosis comes too late, and though they can test early it is far too expensive," she said. "We are breaking down those barriers with a test that is easy, accessible, and allows for early detection. It is simple, portable, and can be used by anyone."

If it is so simple to give people early diagnosis of serious diseases, then why has no one it before?

"I ask myself the same thing. There has been a lot of research, but not so much on the diagnosis space. It has been insignificant,"Al-Zireeni told me.

"All of the innovation has been on improvements on current methods, making better antibody tests, or better RNA tests. Other startups are doing just that, trying to make them better, but, at the end of the day, there are still those existing barriers. Antibody testing, you can't make it earlier. It takes time to react. RNA testing can't be much cheaper. The complexity behind that method is going to remain."

Privail is not planning on selling the device directly to the consumer, instead choosing to go through service providers, including large corporations and international companies, who will sell it to hospitals, who will then sell it to consumers.

This begs the question, though, how will they prevent hospitals from charging a large markup once they sell it to the consumer.

"We want to establish relationships with large non-profit organizations and funds that specifically highly subsidize healthcare for free, or low cost," Al-Zireeni told me. "The large pharmaceutical companies also have global impact centers, where products are distributed at low cost in poorer regions."

The company does see this as a global opportunity, and plans to tackle different parts of the world at the same time, rather than taking it one region at a time.

"The highest population of infected people are in Africa and India, but all the money is in North America and Europe. The idea is to tackle it all in parallel," she said. 

The developing world will adopt have easier adoption because there less infrastructure, and different parts of the world are looking for different things.

"We want to have the resources and infrastructure in place to do that. We want to take it to Africa and do trials there, while gaining regulatory approval in Europe and North America. The idea is to be established in the developing world and ready to tackle first world countries as well."

The San Francisco-based company has raised a small friends and family round, and is currently fund raising.

Why HIV?

Privail can be easily adapted for the early detection of a spectrum of infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis C and B, Influenza, Coronavirus, and more. So why did the company choose to start with HIV?

The answer is that, sadly, is the personal connection that Ategeka has to the disease: originally from Uganda, one of the countries hardest his by HIV, he lost both of his parents to it.

"This is very personal in many ways. I lost numerous relatives, including my mother and father, to HIV. Tackling this has affected me a lot, and I want to bring the solution to other folks, so they don’t' become as unlucky as my parents," he told me.

Ategeka holds a Bachelors of Science and a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He stopped halfway through his PhD in order to found Rides for Lives a company built to design, develop and deliver affordable, innovative and location appropriate emergency vehicles in rural areas.

He was also is named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs in the world in 2014.

Al-Zireeni is also graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (that is where the two co-founders met) with a B.S. and M.Eng. in Bioengineering.

"I had the idea for Privail when I was an undergrad, and I graduated to pursue this idea," she said. "While not as directly related to my life as Chris, I still had  frustration seeing people be diagnosed too late and I saw the consequences of untimely diagnostics. I wanted to develop something to give better aceess and the right information at the right time."

The future of Privail

Founded in January 2013, Privail is very early stage at this point. It is still in the research and development stage, and is still in conversation for several partnerships, but none are official yet.

Still, the company has big plans for the future for how it can change the way people feel about testing for diseases that were once, back in the time of Ryan White, stigmatized. 

"I think it will empower people to get the information they need on their own. Now they have to make an appointment, go to the doctor to get results, and sometimes they don't go back for results," said Al-Zireeni.

"Stigma and fear is a huge driving factor, so to get really important information privately, and to do it themselves, is very important. We are decentralizing the whole system; rather than going to get diagnostics, it can come to you. People can take control of their lives and take the necessary next steps."

"Back in the day we had the idea of people starting to use condoms, but there was a stigma. Now, with a little bit of education, people are comfortable when going into sexual relations with other people asking if others have a condom," Ategeka said. "5 to 10 years from now the education level will get to the point where people can ask if they have Privail technology before they have sex."

Check our Privail's presentation at Splash Health below:

(Image source:

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Privail, Inc.


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Privail is developing point-of-care (POC) diagnostics for the early detection of infectious diseases, with an initial focus on HIV. Unlike current POC diagnostic methods, which focus on the detection of antibodies or nucleic acids, Privail's proprietary technology directly detects the virus itself and is available in a simple, low-cost and portable device. By getting tested immediately, patients can receive earlier and more effective treatment, and ultimately reduce the spread of disease.


The Problem

There is a lack of early HIV identification and treatment. Today, over 54% of the 35 million HIV+ population are unaware of their disease status until symptoms appear, and as a result, are 11 times more likely to die within their first year of infection. This unawareness also increases the risk of spreading HIV. Current diagnostics, which rely on the detection of antibodies or nucleic acids, present barriers to early testing because of their high costs and long window periods. Additionally, in regions such as Africa and India, where more than 80% of the HIV population resides, social stigma associated with getting tested creates an additional barrier.  


Privail's Solution

Privail is developing simple, low-cost, and portable POC diagnostics for the detection and monitoring of infectious and inflammatory diseases. Our device will lie at the intersection between a pregnancy test and diabetes test, where all that is required is a small amount of blood from a finger prick, and within minutes, a patient will obtain easy-to-read results in the form of a color output (red or blue) or a digital output (“+” or “-“). Similarly, we will also be providing a laboratory test for hospital/clinical use, where a small patient blood sample can be mixed with Privail’s testing solution, and within minutes, results can be read with standard laboratory equipment. Furthermore, Privail’s proprietary technology is a platform that can be easily adapted for the early detection of a spectrum of diseases. Hence, there is huge future potential to impact the lives of those at risk for common diseases as well as upcoming threats.


Global Impact

By providing affordable tests that can be conducted in the privacy of one's home, we set the stage for enhanced health outcomes on a global level. The earlier a disease is detected, the better patients can enhance health outcomes and avoid disease transmission.


Christopher Ategeka

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Chris is an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur at heart. He is 2014 Forbes Magazine 30under30 social-entrepreneurs in the world. Before Privail, he Founded Rides for Lives a successful healthcare social venture. He has a BS & MS from UC Berkeley.

Anwaar Al-Zireeni

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Anwaar is a two-time graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.S. and M.Eng. in Bioengineering. An entrepreneur at heart, she invented Privail's technology with the goal of increasing global access to actionable diagnostics.