Sherlock Biosciences Launches Innovation Lab to Develop COVID-19 Diagnostics with $7.5 Million Grant from Open Philanthropy

May 27, 2020

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Sherlock Biosciences, an Engineering Biology company dedicated to makingdiagnostic testing better, faster and more affordable, today announced that Open Philanthropy is advancing $7.5 million in grant funding to launch the Sherlock Innovation Lab and accelerate the development of Sherlock’s at-home COVID-19 diagnostic utilizing its INSPECTR platform. In 2019, Open Philanthropy awarded Sherlock a $17.5 million non-dilutive grant to develop its SHERLOCK™ platform for use at home, hospitals and in the field. As part of that grant, and with the onset of the global pandemic, this advance from Open Philanthropy will also support the development of INSPECTR to meet the need for increased testing capacity worldwide.


Leveraging the power of Synthetic Biology, Sherlock’s INSPECTR (Internal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction) platform enables the creation of an instrument-free, handheld diagnostic test – similar to that of an at-home pregnancy test – that can be applied across multiple diseases and in a variety of settings. With the launch of the Sherlock Innovation Lab in Cambridge, the company is currently hiring industry and academic experts in synthetic biology to focus exclusively on scaling INSPECTR for at-home and low-resource environments. Numerous non-profit organizations are participating in the effort to deploy talent, including MassBio, MassMEDIC and Gloucester Biotechnology Academy. By tapping into the vast expertise of their membership and broader network, Sherlock aims to immediately bring 10-15 molecular diagnostic experts into its second facility to focus on the development of the company’s INSPECTR-based COVID-19 solution.


“We believe rapid next-generation diagnostics like those being developed at Sherlock will enable critical progress in developing technologies that could reduce the impact of viral pandemics and meet critical testing needs in the developing world,” said Heather Youngs, program officer for scientific research at Open Philanthropy. “We believe knowing what pathogen is causing disease is critical to modern medical practice.”



“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,” said William J. Blake, chief technology officer at Sherlock Biosciences. “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. 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.”


In addition to INSPECTR, the Sherlock Innovation Lab will focus on advancing the company’s SHERLOCK platform, a CRISPR-based method to detect and quantify specific genetic sequences. Earlier this month, the company received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit, the first FDA-authorized use of CRISPR technology.



A Synthetic Biology-based molecular diagnostic platform, INSPECTR is licensed exclusively from the Wyss Institute of Harvard University. INSPECTR 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. This novel approach enables the 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.

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