Sherlock Biosciences has raised $80 million in funding to develop new diagnostic tests based on the gene-editing technology CRISPR.
Bryan Dechairo, president and chief executive of Boston-based Sherlock, said his company will use the new financing to develop and commercialize rapid 10-minute lab tests for infectious diseases, as well as at-home tests that provide results in under an hour.
Most CRISPR-focused biotechs are using the gene-editing tool to develop therapies. Sherlock is one of a few companies using CRISPR enzymes to detect specific sequences of DNA or RNA to diagnose infections. The pandemic provided an unexpected opportunity for the startup to validate its approach.
In May 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the company’s CRISPR-based diagnostic for COVID-19. At the time, Sherlock cofounder and former CEO Rahul Dhanda told the Globe that the company planned to sell enough tests for at least 10,000 (and potentially millions of) patients a week.
Sherlock won’t say how many people were tested with its product, but Dechairo concedes that “it wasn’t broadly used.” The test took 2.5 hours to run, much longer than the rapid PCR tests that detect coronavirus RNA in nasal swabs in an hour.
But during the pandemic, Sherlock has refined its technology, he added. “Now we have it as a 10-minute test, and that is highly competitive against PCR.”
Sherlock has also been working on paper-based at-home diagnostics that work at room temperature without a power source—similar to COVID antigen tests sold at pharmacies, although Sherlock’s test identifies the presence of viral RNA, instead of antibodies. About six months ago, the tests required five steps and took 4.5 hours to run. “Now we have it working in under an hour with two steps,” Dechairo said.
The 10-minute lab test and 1-hour at-home tests are not authorized by the FDA yet. The company plans to use its new financing to prove those tests are accurate in clinical studies.
Dechairo said the next step is to develop tests “for a whole host of conditions, not just for COVID.” The CRISPR technology can be customized to detect any snippet of DNA or RNA. The company is working on tests for respiratory syncytial virus as well as sexually transmitted diseases including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. The technology could eventually be applied to detect other diseases, including cancer.
The new funding was led by the investment and advisory firm Novalis LifeSciences, which was also an investor in Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks.