How IdentifySensors is creating a COVID-19 test that could evolve into a one-stop-shop at home
As the fight against COVID-19 continues, companies all over the world are working to create easier, more effective tests. The first companies to design an at-home test that delivers great results could be in for massive growth and investment, and could help turn the tide against the disease. But what if the same test could be implemented for other ailments like influenza or even hepatitis? That’s the big dream of Cleveland’s IdentifySensors, a startup working on an in-home device that could test for COVID-19 and much more. But when the company began its life in 2010, they were in an entirely different field.
“IdentifySensors started off creating single-walled carbon nanotube sensors at Case Western Reserve here in Cleveland,” said Dr. Gregory Hummer, founder and CEO. “Our sensors were mainly to detect explosives, then came sensors to detect the spoilage in the food supply chain. Fish, meat and produce comes from all over the world and the supply chain is huge, so there was a need to develop a sensor that detects spoilage for meat and fish or E. coli, salmonella and other bacteria for fruits and vegetables. Years later, we found that Purdue University had very similar technology and we started working with them. Then, last year, they asked us to help with a COVID-19 test.”
When IdentifySensors began working on a test for the virus, it changed everything. They found that the electronics required for a COVID-19 testing device were very similar to what they had already been producing, so they were able to use much of their existing tech. And surprisingly, some of the same properties used in testing for E. coli in lettuce became the building blocks of the test that Hummer hopes will change medicine.
“It’s worked out great because now we’ve functionalized this test for COVID-19 and RNA viruses and what we’re able to do has gone beyond our expectations,” he said. “In fact, I’ve had some major scientists across the world call me and say, ‘If you are really doing this, it’s a major step forward in biologics.’ And it’s true; it’s going to be a disruptive force because laboratory medicine is mired in 50-year-old technology that hasn’t changed much. Our technology is going to be like having a lab in your medicine cabinet. You’ll be able to test yourself not only for COVID-19, but for influenza, hepatitis C, HIV, Lyme disease, you name it.”
Hummer said the device is close to completion; he hopes to have FDA approval and an emergency use authorization in the next few months for the test centered around COVID-19 and expand its capabilities to other diseases in the future.
“There are at least 30 to 40 diseases, viruses and bacterial infections that we are working toward allowing you to test yourself for in the future,” said Hummer. “It will allow you to then go to the doctor and say, ‘I have Lyme disease,’ and then get treated. It’s the ideal test because you don’t have to drive anywhere, you don’t have to wait in line, you don’t have to do the nasal swab. It’s done using your saliva, and it’s quick and it’s not expensive. The average tests will cost about $19. It uses a multi-use reader that communicates to a Bluetooth-enabled computer, smartphone or tablet. Information is sent to the cloud, where it’s interpreted and determines an answer before coming back to your device.”
Hummer said Identify Sensors is drawing worldwide interest from investors across the country and beyond in Europe and the Middle East. He said he hopes a successful COVID-19 rollout can help inject the next round of capital into the company that will allow its future plans to flourish. And as a longtime resident and entrepreneur in Cleveland, Hummer said IdentifySensors is in the ideal location to grow quickly.
“I’ve always loved Cleveland; Ohio is a great place to raise a family and I’ve had two other successful businesses that I built here,” he said. “In the 80s, my brother and I built several emergency care centers here — Roy Disney of the Disney family was an investor in the company. Eventually, we sold those businesses to a medical group that is now the biggest in California. Cleveland is a great town because the cost of living is reasonable, the schools are great and the state of Ohio provides a lot of support for startups. It’s a great state to start a business and to do business in, so we’re happy to be here.”