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Univ. Labs Ink Licensing Deals for Covid-19 Tests

Home testing station

Home diagnostic device (3EO Health Inc.)

5 Aug. 2022. Two companies agreed to license technologies from academic labs in the U.S. and U.K. for developing faster and more sensitive at-home tests for Covid-19 infections. The deals were announced yesterday between 3EO Health Inc. in Beverly, Massachusetts with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and Innova Medical Group Inc. in Pasadena, California with University of Birmingham in the U.K.

3EO Health is a start-up enterprise, founded last year to develop diagnostic testing for home use with a technology the company says returns rapid results with molecular accuracy. The company’s scientific founder, Thomas Schaus, is a former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Harvard system biology professor Peng Yin and staff scientist at the Wyss Institute. In 2017, Schaus, Yin, and colleagues demonstrated their technology for detecting and recording bimolecular interactions in DNA, called auto-cycling proximity recording. Their technology makes possible highly precise DNA readings.

3EO Health says its home lab is a small, portable device for medical diagnostics, beginning with tests for SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The device, says the company, uses one-time reagents to test for the presence of specific DNA, without sending the sample to a remote lab for analysis. And, says 3EO Health, the device returns results quickly and at a cost similar to current home antigen tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 in nasal swabs.

“In order to optimize the value of testing, tests should be simple to use, affordable, rapid, and accurate,” says Yin in a Wyss Institute statement. Yin adds, “We have developed a simple and rapid test platform that promises to deliver PCR-level accuracy at antigen level cost.” Harvard’s technology transfer office granted 3EO Health an exclusive license to develop and commercialize the technology. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Reverse-transcription free, exponential amplification reaction

Biotechnology researchers at University of Birmingham designed a technology for detecting SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA that a demonstration shows returns fast results at molecular accuracy by removing a separate step for reverse transcription. Innova Medical Group licensed global commercialization rights to Birmingham’s technology called reverse-transcription free, exponential amplification reaction or RTF-Expar.

RTF-Expar is a product of Birmingham’s labs led by biotechnology professor Tim Dafforn, with chemistry professor James Tucker, and oncologist-geneticist Andrew Beggs. The team developed RTF-Expar to meet the need for rapid, yet accurate tests in homes, but also at transportation hubs and entertainment venues where remote lab processing of samples is not feasible.

The researchers explain and demonstrate RTF-Expar in a paper published last year. A key part of the technique is creation of a synthetic double-stranded RNA/DNA molecule that produces a short DNA strand. That DNA strand then triggers an exponential amplification reaction without the reverse-transcription step now needed for polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, considered the gold standard for molecular testing. In the paper, Dafforn and colleagues show RTF-Expar returns results in about 10 minutes, faster than RT-PCR and reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or RT-LAMP tests, with comparable sensitivity.

In their agreement, Innova Medical Group gains commercialization rights to RTF-Expar, which the company expects to roll out worldwide by next year. “We’ve been searching globally for advanced diagnostics technologies to manage the current pandemic and mitigate future health care challenges,” says Innova CEO Robert Kasprzak in a company statement released through Cision, “and we were impressed by the RTF testing method and the team behind it deserves enormous credit for their innovation.”

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