Business COVID-19 Startups

Consumer COVID-19 Tests Closer To Reality Under Mammoth Biosciences/GSK Partnership

Illustration of worker hands holding petri dish with covid bacteria.

A new collaboration between a young startup and a health care giant may soon put handheld COVID-19 tests into the hands of consumers.

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San Francisco-based Mammoth Biosciences is leveraging its CRISPR-based DETECTR platform with GlaxoSmithKline‘s Consumer Healthcare business unit, which has global reach and commercialization expertise, to develop an accurate, easy-to-use, fully disposable, rapid and handheld test that consumers and health care providers in clinics can use to detect active SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“It shows that GSK is making a big bet on innovation,” Mammoth’s co-founder and CEO Trevor Martin told Crunchbase News.

How it works

Mammoth’s platform can identify and signal the presence of viral RNA strands obtained through a simple nasal swab, similar to today’s COVID-19 testing. What makes Mammoth’s test unique is that it can detect the viral RNA early, even if someone is asymptomatic, Martin said.

Mammoth Biosciences was founded in 2017 by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna and principal founders Martin, Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington, to discover and develop CRISPR-based disease detection platforms. Since its inception, the company raised a total of $68.1 million, according to Crunchbase data.

United Kingdom-based global health care company, GSK Consumer Healthcare, develops and markets products in the areas of pain relief, respiratory, digestive health, oral health, nutrition and skin health, amassing a portfolio that includes well-known brands such as Abreva, Excedrin, Sensodyne and Tums.

CRISPR is typically used as a gene editing tool, but Mammoth is using it more like a search engine, Martin said. Its DETECTR platform can be programmed to search for COVID-19 in a molecule and then show up in the test result, similar to how a pregnancy test provides a visual result within minutes, he added.

Martin said this new COVID-19 test will be disposable, easily read, deliver results in less than 20 minutes, and will not require a laboratory setting to be administered. This means the test could be done anywhere—homes, doctor’s offices, airports, points-of-entry or workplaces.

Next steps

Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed, but following the development of a COVID-19 test, both companies will look at using the DETECTR technology platform to develop other types of diagnostics for consumer use, he said.

Mammoth and GSK Consumer Healthcare are working on the COVID-19 test with plans to submit the device for FDA Emergency Use Authorization review before the end of 2020. If approved, it would then be made available to U.S. health care facilities that diagnose or treat COVID-19, and eventually available over-the-counter to consumers, Martin said.

Meanwhile, GSK Consumer Healthcare CEO Brian McNamara said in a written statement that the company was “excited” to contribute its “consumer insights and commercial expertise” to developing a test to detect active COVID-19.

“We are committed to helping our consumers stay healthy during this pandemic and believe access to quality and accurate testing is a critical need,” McNamara said. “We look forward to bringing the power of testing out of the lab and into people’s homes.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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