Gold, healthcare and SDG 3

As Hannah discussed in last week’s Goldhub blog post, many World Gold Council Members operate in regions which are often disproportionately impacted by healthcare challenges and they play a key role in supporting their employees and wider communities, especially during times of crisis. Indeed, their contribution towards SDG 3 is considerable in many parts of the world.

But it’s not just the miners that are having a positive impact on SDG 3, gold itself is a critical material in the healthcare sector. It is used in a large number of diagnostic tools, and is of increasing interest to companies developing innovative new ways to treat disease. These applications often go unnoticed, but are an important part of gold’s story.

Diagnostic testing & COVID-19

We published a series of blogs on Goldhub throughout 2020 detailing how gold is a critical component of lateral flow assays (LFAs), with the most recent looking at how capacity pressure in the wider diagnostics landscape was catalysing the development of new solutions and tools to quickly and accurately diagnose COVID-19.1 2020 was a hugely tumultuous year, and the rollout of reliable COVID-19 diagnostics was undeniably challenging. However, by the end of the year the suite of lab-based molecular tests had been supplemented by a range of reliable and affordable COVID-19 LFAs. As we move towards the end of 2021, there is now hundreds of gold-based tests being developed for use worldwide to help in the fight against COVID-19. Indeed, if you have taken a LFA at any point over the last year, it’s very likely to have contained gold.

There are many other diagnostics that rely on this technology, including malaria tests which are manufactured in the hundreds of millions annually. If you’d like to learn more about how this technology works in practice, please check out our animation below. 

 

Old drugs, new tricks

Auranofin is a gold-based drug which was developed and marketed in the 1980s by SmithKline & French (now GSK). Originally designed to treat serious cases of rheumatoid arthritis, it was gradually superseded by more modern drugs. However, its story did not end here; there is significant interest in using it to treat several other conditions. This approach of ‘repurposing’ previously approved drugs is becoming increasingly common and important in modern medicine. Therapeutics often have the ability to have a clinical impact on multiple targets, and Auranofin is a prime example of this. A review published in 2015 stated that “…there is potential for new applications in the treatment of some cancers, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, HIV and even neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s”.2 Indeed, there are several clinical trials currently underway investigating some of these areas.

Using nanotechnology to treat disease

Nanotechnology is a branch of science which is driving considerable progress in the way we tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. The idea of targeting small quantities of highly engineered materials to solve specific problems is a holy grail of medicine in many ways, and gold is playing an increasingly important role here. Many companies have recognised the potential of gold nanoparticles (GNPs) in medicine. They are stable, easily modified and functionalised and, critically, safe to administer into humans. Several start-ups are pursuing different paths to incorporate gold nanoparticles into their therapeutics, sometimes to deliver drugs directly into tumours, or use the gold particles themselves to heat and destroy cancerous cells. Another potentially impactful use of GNPs in medicine is in the development of novel vaccines. Companies like Emergex utilise GNPs as a carrier system for their vaccines which are targeting a significant number of diseases including Dengue, Zika and Yellow Fever. The company has completed preclinical studies on its lead Dengue programme, and Phase I and subsequent clinical trials are planned to start in Switzerland, Singapore and Brazil.

Both gold and the companies that mine the metal are playing an important role in progressing towards delivering the targets of SDG 3 as we describe in our latest research; read more in our latest report.