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Univ Lab, Company Developing Phone-Based Virus Sensor

Phone photo

(tookapic, Pixabay)

22 Sept. 2020. A biotechnology company is sponsoring university research on light waves reacting in characteristic patterns for detecting SARS-CoV-2 viruses by a smartphone camera. Hoth Therapeutics Inc. in New York is funding studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. for technology that can lead to a mobile device for detecting the viruses responsible for Covid-19 infections.

Hoth Therapeutics develops biological drugs for skin conditions and antibiotics, particularly for stubborn bacterial biofilms that can aggravate skin infections. In March, Hoth formed HaloVax LLC in a joint venture with Voltron Therapeutics to develop a vaccine to protect against Covid-19 infections, based on a technology licensed from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The company also licensed the rights to develop a technology based on research at George Washington that uses plasmonic properties, where light waves excite electrons in characteristic patterns, for detecting the presence of certain biological molecules. In this case, the plasmonic properties are detected from a thin gold film coated with virus-specific proteins. In the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viruses, the detection proteins bind to the SARS-CoV-2 viruses, with light waves sent through an array of nanoscale holes detecting the changes in color from the altered wavelengths.

Hoth envisions a smartphone camera detecting the changes in wavelength and color, supported by a mobile app with algorithms for analyzing and interpreting the light waves for detecting SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Data from the app can then be sent to public health authorities to track new Covid-19 infections.

The research agreement announcement does not indicate the type of specimen provided by the user. In August, as reported by Science & Enterprise, Hoth and GWU began collaborating on a sensor detecting SARS-CoV-2 viruses in human breath, also using plasmonic properties, initially researched in the university’s engineering labs.

“What we need is a home-based test that is both inexpensive and simple to use that could quickly identify asymptomatic people shedding high levels of virus,” says GWU epidemiology professor Jeanne Jordan in a Hoth Therapeutics statement. “Such a test could be a game changer for identifying those at greatest risk of transmitting the virus to others. A home-based test could pave the way toward a safe reopening of schools and the economy.”

“There is a significant unmet need for rapid Covid-19 in vitro diagnostic devices that can be used at home or in other non-lab settings by patients,” notes Stefanie Johns, chief scientist at Hoth Therapeutics, adding “We plan to start discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration about the development plans for this novel technology in early 2021 to position the device for an emergency use authorization request.”

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