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UW Spinout Receives Funding to Develop Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test

February 3, 2021
person in lab gear working on something
Gareth Flowers, a chemical engineering major from Powell, works on a point-of-care COVID-19 test device in the Oakey biomedical engineering laboratory at UW. A team involving the Oakey lab and UW spinout CellDrop Biosciences Inc. is developing a sensitive and extremely fast antigen test for COVID-19 that will produce results in under three minutes. (Cassidy Enloe Photo)

CellDrop Biosciences Inc., a University of Wyoming spinout company, is part of a $354,000 grant to develop sensitive and extremely fast antigen tests for COVID-19 that will produce results in under three minutes.

The collaborative effort is spearheaded by the Oakey biomedical engineering laboratory at UW and involves CellDrop Biosciences; Metrohm Raman, a Laramie-based manufacturer of analytical systems; and the lab of Hadley Sikes, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology associate professor of chemical engineering.

The competitive grant comes from the COVID Innovations Fund of UW’s Wyoming Health and Bioscience Innovation Hub, which is administering federal CARES Act funding from the state to support entrepreneurs, researchers, faculty members and business owners who propose innovative solutions addressing unsolved problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has shown the need for fast and accurate diagnostic tests at the point of care, and our team is well positioned to demonstrate and deploy such a test by assembling already validated components,” says Ben Noren, the CEO and co-founder of CellDrop Biosciences and a UW chemical engineering graduate from Ironwood, Mich. “We expect to have an extremely fast and sensitive antigen test that can be inexpensively produced, ready for commercialization very soon.”

CellDrop Biosciences is leading commercializing efforts, aiding in the research/development process, and controls the intellectual property surrounding the project. The Oakey lab, led by UW chemical engineering Professor John Oakey, is heading up development of the point-of-care device; Sikes’ lab is supplying the necessary binding proteins and aiding in protein research/development; and Metrohm Raman, led by CEO Keith Carron, a UW professor emeritus of chemistry, is supplying hand-held detectors called Raman spectrometers that provide test results.

The scientists say their platform -- which will use saliva samples -- combines molecular recognition with simple but sophisticated sample handling. Two versions of the test are under development -- one using robust optical detection via Metrohm’s hand-held Raman detectors for commercial application, and one relying on a straightforward visual positive/negative result for at-home use. Both tests use CellDrop’s patented sample concentration technology, enabling a level of testing speed that can’t be found in existing rapid antigen tests.

At under $40 per test, the diagnostic is expected to be one of the least expensive on the market. To meet the urgent need of more testing capacity, the team created a simple design that enables rapid and inexpensive manufacturing.

Noren says CellDrop Biosciences was founded with a goal of translating cutting-edge research “from the benchtop to the bedside.” It specializes in using microfluidics and hydrogel engineering to build customized diagnostic and biomaterial delivery systems.

The Wyoming Health and Bioscience Innovation Hub accepted proposals to receive funding from the COVID Innovations Fund for projects including drugs for prevention or treatment; and tests, devices or systems for delivery of COVID-19 solutions. The hub exists to grow the bioscience ecosystem in Wyoming and works in close partnership with other UW and Wyoming business assistance entities.

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