Diagnostics startup ID Genomics snags NIH grant to develop rapid tests for COVID-19 variants. - Start Up Gazzete
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Diagnostics startup ID Genomics snags NIH grant to develop rapid tests for COVID-19 variants.


Diagnostics startup ID Genomics will accelerate its development of a rapid test for COVID-19 virus variants with a new grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The Seattle-based company announced Tuesday the $300,000 small business grant for the dipstick-based test, currently called CovNET. ID Genomics is also eligible for a follow-on grant of up to $3 million.

Most tests for the virus simply provide a “yes” or “no” answer to whether someone is infected. ID Genomics’ prototype test can also distinguish which variant an individual is infected with, and can do so in two hours.

That’s faster than the gold-standard method, which involves sequencing the virus genome to detect variants. Some existing rapid tests can also detect a single variant or a few, but CovNET excels at distinguishing among dozens, according to ID Genomics co-founder Evgeni Sokurenko.

Sokurenko co-founded ID Genomics in 2014 with the goal of combining epidemiological surveillance, bioinformatics and molecular diagnostics. The 6-person company offers a variety of services to identify different microbes and their subtypes.

In addition to developing the CovNET rapid test, ID Genomics will launch a next-day sequencing service for variants in the coming weeks. The researchers demonstrated their sequencing approach in a recent study of a variant that emerged in California.

But the new two-hour test could ultimately be easier to implement and potentially cheaper, aiding “real-time” monitoring of current and emerging variants, said Sokurenko, who is also a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington. The UW is the academic partner on the grant.

Sokurenko said easy variant detection could “help with close monitoring of pandemic dynamics, viral evolution and spread, as well as timely detection and containment of local outbreaks.” In addition, better detection could support the development of treatments tailored to each version of the virus.


New variants are continually emerging, and the highly contagious delta variant is now dominant in the United States and many other countries. The World Health Organization has identified three other “variants of concern”. These variants are known to be nastier than the original version of the virus, for example, they are more easily transmitted or make people sick.

ID Genomics is aiming for an easy-to-use test that could be rapidly implemented in epidemiological surveillance laboratories around the world. “With all the stars aligned, we could start selling the test kit in a matter of months,” said CovNET’s Sokurenko. “Affordability is the goal,” he added.

The CovNET prototype test uses a technique called PCR to identify variants, which appear as bands on a strip. The location and intensity of the bands can identify the predominant variant in a sample. Each double-sided strip can identify up to 24 variants, and using more strips allows detection of more variants.

The company is also developing a smartphone app to quickly decode the bands and identify which variant they correspond to.

CovNET adapts technology components built by Bothell, Washington-based IEH Laboratories for other types of testing. IEH Laboratories is also collaborating with ID Genomics to develop a pocket-sized “nanocycler” for incubating samples. The battery-powered device is capable of rapid heating and cooling cycles in the PCR portion of the test, which amplifies the genetic material of the virus.

The new grant will allow the startup to optimize the prototype test and validate it on a large number of clinical samples. ID Genomics is also working on agreements for manufacturing and distribution.

There is a growing pipeline of diagnostic tests for COVID-19, many tracked by Seattle-based PATH. New tests include a home-based pcr test to detect the Amazon virus,and a test that can also tell if you have been infected with the virus in the past, developed by Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies in partnership with Microsoft.

But there is a need for tests that can enable more efficient surveillance of variants. Washington state is currently sequencing about 20% of virus samples for variants, but that’s more than most states and many national labs.

Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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