Sherlock Biosciences has bought global molecular diagnostics company Sense Biodetection based out of Cambridge, U.K., to help it reach its goal of making diagnostics easy to use, cheap, disposable, and good for the environment. Sherlock’s purchase of Sense—which launched its fully integrated molecular diagnostic test that provides laboratory-quality results in 15 minutes for SARS-CoV-2 in select countries—will enable the company’s vision of bringing together the accuracy of PCR with the convenience and simplicity of antigen tests for molecular diagnostics at the point-of-need.

CEO Sherlock Biosciences Bryan Dechairo
Bryan Dechairo, CEO of Sherlock Biosciences

“This is a great milestone for people who want access to diagnostics wherever they are, whether in low- and middle-income countries or the United States,” Sherlock Biosciences CEO Bryan Dechairo told GEN Edge. The acquisition’s terms are not being made public.

Co-founded by the Broad’s Feng Zhang, who won the patent dispute over who invented the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to edit genes in human cells, Sherlock made history in 2020 with the first FDA-authorized use of CRISPR technology—a COVID-19 test authorized by the FDA early in the pandemic to be used in labs. However, Sherlock’s system, which incorporated Cas13 and RNA guides that recognize signatures of SARS-CoV-2, did not really meet consumer demand.

In a conversation with GEN Edge last year, Dechairo said that Sherlock had been seeking to distance themselves from Jennifer Doudna’s and Janice Chen’s Mammoth Biosciences, who developed a similar CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 test with their system DETECTR (DNA Endonuclease Targeted CRISPR Trans Reporter) that relies on Cas12. Since taking the reins in 2021, Dechairo has pivoted towards bringing the diagnostic tests out of the doctor’s offices and labs and bringing them into patients’ houses, agricultural fields, and livestock businesses.

Dechairo said that there are several components that really excite him about joining forces with Sense.

The first is Sense’s proprietary strand displacement chemistry—an isothermal amplification method. “It’s the fastest amplification method I’ve ever seen,” said Dechairo. “It can do what PCR takes 30 cycles to do in less than five minutes. Sense’s chemistry really opens up the future of point-of-care testing.”

Semse Biodetection Veros COVID-19
The Veros COVID-19 from Sense Biodetection.

Second is the Veros platform—a low-cost, instrument-free, disposable device that has been through clinical trials and has very high accuracy and isothermal chemistry. “Combined, Sherlock and Sense have proprietary molecular chemistry that enable affordable OTC testing with superior accuracy when deployed on our low-cost disposable Veros platform,” said Dechairo.

The third factor is that Sense has expertise in biomanufacturing for their chemistry and an advanced lateral flow strip that uses carbon particles instead of the typical gold particles. Dechairo said that Sense’s biomanufacturing facility in Cambridge, UK, is state-of-the-art and something that will be an integral part of Sherlock, which is based in Massachusetts, for years to come.

After researching the competition over the past six months, Dechairo concluded that the only company with something compatible to Sherlock was Sense.

“The combination of their platform, chemistry, and biomanufacturing with Sherlock’s ambient-temperature, CRISPR-based chemistries, and the fact that our chemistries can easily go onto their platform as well, it really makes us the leader in decentralizing and democratizing diagnostics globally,” said Dechairo. “I see this as not only where we are now, but also how we will build the future that we all envision for diagnostics.”

The menu

Sherlock had been focusing on two over-the-counter (OTC) platforms: a durable reader with a cartridge that enabled multiplexing and a low-cost disposable device akin to a pregnancy test. While Sherlock was further along with their reader and cartridge-based approach, Sense was further along with Veros, the lowest-cost disposable molecular platform on the market.

Dechairo believes that using Sherlock’s assays for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and respiratory diseases combined with Sense’s Veros platform is the best place to start towards commercialization. “We haven’t let the technology drive the commercialization,” said Dechairo. “We continue to get deeper and deeper and deeper consumer data on just what’s happening in respiratory, what’s happening in STI, what the people want, and how they want it. That’s what drives not only our go-to-market strategy but the form factors and who we deliver these technologies to.”

Dechairo said that the acquisition of Sense speeds up the commercial launch of their OTC diagnostics for respiratory and STIs by more than a year or two. Sherlock already has FDA-authorized use of their CRISPR technology for diagnostics, and Sense’s Veros COVID-19 rapid, instrument-free molecular test was CE-marked in March 2022 and is ready for utilization in Europe, and the 510(k) clearance for FDA submission is complete. “That’s an initial beachhead when it comes to regulation,” said Dechairo.

Dechairo said that Sherlock’s chemistries are very good at quantification, enabling access to the oncology market and detecting polymorphisms, opening up the human testing market beyond infectious diseases. “With our chemistries on the Veros platform, we can really accelerate the diagnostics market,” said Dechairo. “The Sherlock chemistries enable the next generation to follow with even lower-cost goods and more environmentally-friendly disposables that do not require batteries or a circuit board.”

After that, Dechairo envisions making a move with the reader and cartridge-based system into people’s homes. “To open up areas like blood- and urine-based quantification, you’re going to need that reader and cartridge,” said Dechairo. “But that’s for the future diagnostic menu.”

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