A young biotech company is racing to make Covid-19 tests--and results--available on demand.
San Francisco-based startup Mammoth Biosciences is developing an at-home test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The test can determine in 20 minutes whether someone is carrying the virus, thanks in part to the gene-editing technique known as Crispr, according to Mammoth. The company's goal is to submit the device to the FDA for emergency authorization by year end. If approved, the test could be available at doctors' offices and hospitals as well as over the counter.
Mammoth's test requires the user to take a nasal swab or spit into a vial; a color indicator then reveals a positive or negative result.
The test detects the presence of viral RNA strands using a proprietary Crispr-based system known as Detectr. The system's diagnostic abilities were recently validated in the peer-reviewed research journal Nature Biotechnology.
"The promise of Crispr-based diagnostics," says co-founder and CEO Trevor Martin, "is that you can have molecular results where you're detecting the disease very early in the progression, very accurately, but in a rapid-style, fully disposable format."
The startup is partnering with London-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to bring the test to market. Martin says GSK can help the company scale and commercialize the test. He did not have a proposed price for the test but said, "The key is it does need to be affordable to be effective."
Martin, an Inc. 30 Under 30 honoree in 2019, co-founded the company in 2017 along with Berkeley professor and Crispr co-inventor Jennifer Doudna and two of her students, Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington. They formed the startup with the intention of creating nearly instant at-home tests that can diagnose illnesses--from malaria to sexually transmitted diseases--faster and more accurately. Mammoth has $68 million in funding from investors including Mayfield Fund, Verily, NFX, and Brook Byers.
Earlier this month, the FDA granted diagnostic testing startup Everlywell an emergency use authorization similar to the one Mammoth will seek. That company's at-home Covid-19 test needs to be sent to a lab to process results.
The lack of wide-scale, rapid testing for Covid-19, Martin says, "really laid bare the problems Mammoth has been trying to solve from the very beginning."