Sherlock Biosciences said today it will accelerate the development of its at-home COVID-19 diagnostic based on its INSPECTR platform—and work to develop additional tests to detect the disease in home and low-resource settings through its Sherlock Innovation Lab.
The innovation lab, to be based in Cambridge, MA, will be funding with $7.5 million in grant funding advanced from a $17.5 million non-dilutive grant Sherlock received as part of its over $31 million Series A financing round completed last year. The $17.5 million grant was intended to fund development of Sherlock’s namesake SHERLOCK platform in home, hospital, and field settings.
Through the launch of the Innovation Lab, Sherlock said it can develop the INSPECTR-based test to meet the global need for increased testing capacity.
“We are deeply grateful that Open Philanthropy has extended its support of Sherlock at this critical time when the need for a low-cost, instrument-free solution for home and low-resource settings is so vital,” William J. Blake, chief technology officer at Sherlock Biosciences, said in a statement. “The funds will allow us to address what we see as dual challenges: fueling development of solutions for the healthcare crisis globally and contributing to the economic well-being of our local community and industry.”
Sherlock’s INSPECTR (Internal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction) is a synthetic biology-based platform designed to enable creation of an instrument-free, handheld diagnostic test—similar to an at-home pregnancy test—that can be applied across multiple diseases and in numerous settings.
INSPECTR is licensed exclusively from the Wyss Institute of Harvard University, and can be programmed to distinguish targets based on a single nucleotide without an instrument and at room temperature.
When INSPECTR’s synthetic biosensors detect the presence of a nucleic acid target, a reporter protein is produced. This protein output can be designed to generate a signal tailored to any medium, providing a simple diagnostic readout. According to Sherlock, INSPECTR’s novel approach enables rapid development of molecular diagnostic tests that are low-cost, easy-to-use and broadly applicable, making it an ideal diagnostic testing solution for low-resource and at-home environments.
For its Sherlock Innovation Lab, the company said it is hiring industry and academic experts in synthetic biology, with the aim of scaling INSPECTR for at-home and low-resource environments. Numerous non-profit organizations are working with Sherlock to help identify and hire talent, including MassBio, MassMEDIC, and Gloucester Biotechnology Academy.
Sherlock said it aims to immediately bring 10-15 molecular diagnostic experts into its new lab to focus on developing the company’s INSPECTR-based COVID-19 solution.
“With unemployment accelerating due to the pandemic, we will be able to immediately deploy highly skilled talent with the expertise, commitment and passion to shape the future of molecular diagnostics,” Blake added.
A test to detect SARS-CoV-2 based on Sherlock’s namesake platform—which stands for Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unlocking (SHERLOCK)—received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA on May 7. The Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit thus became the first FDA-authorized use of CRISPR technology applied through a diagnostic. The SHERLOCK platform is a CRISPR-based method designed to detect and quantify specific genetic sequences.
“Our goal is to make sure that this technology is used as broadly as possible in as many settings as possible,” Rahul Dhanda, Sherlock’s co-founder, president, and CEO, told Clinical OMICS last year.