Startups Provide Speedy COVID-19 Testing

August 4, 2020

By Jackie Connor

Two UC Irvine (UCI) startups, Velox Biosystems Inc. and Nanommune Inc., partnered to produce a rapid high-throughput COVID-19 serological test.

The team’s serological test, which is a test that detects the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ antibodies, aims to detect these antibodies faster, within two to three days, with more accuracy and provide more information. Both startups have been developed using UCI intellectual property.

“If you want speed, you often lose accuracy, this has always been a fundamental challenge for any diagnostic test,” said Byron Shen, Ph.D., CEO of Velox Biosystems. “This test will give you a more accurate and complete picture on an individual basis.”

The test detects COVID-19 antibodies as well as many other respiratory viruses an individual has been exposed to recently and assesses how these viruses are interacting with a person’s immune system, which can then help conclude COVID-19’s progression within that person’s body.

“The immune response to COVID has been very complex and that’s been the big challenge for this COVID-19 outbreak,” said Shen. “It can manifest so differently for different people … with this platform, it helps determine exposure and immune response pattern for each individual person and going into the flu season, we can differentiate the flu, the common cold and COVID-19 infections.”

Velox Biosystems, co-founded by Weian Zhao, Ph.D., UCI professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, develops new diagnostics for life science applications, such as infectious disease detection and cancer diagnosis. The company’s tests focus on high sensitivity and rapid turnaround times to overcome fundamental diagnostic performance barriers.

In 2018, Velox Biosystems graduated from UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder program and the company launched a rapid diagnostic test for urinary tract infections. In 2019, Velox Biosystems took home first place in the systemwide, third annual UC Entrepreneur Pitch Competition for their rapid UTI detection platform.

Nanommune, founded by Phil Felgner, Ph.D., director of UCI’s Vaccine R&D Center, develops research tools for the biomedical community such as the most recent launch of Felgner’s COVID-19 Coronavirus Antigen Microarray, a test that helps determine if a person has been exposed to COVID-19.

“We are very excited about our partnership with Velox as it allows us to offer a greater scale to our customers in their fight against COVID,” said Chris Magill, CEO of Nanommune. “The partnership allows Nanommune to leverage Velox’s deep bench strength to develop new product offerings and services.”

While Magill believes Nanommune’s microarray product is the “best-of-breed” antibody test, he says many smaller customers want the ability to outsource sample probing and testing to obtain their data faster.

“Our partnership with Velox allows us to offer this testing service to our customers and opens up new global opportunities for researchers, who otherwise do not have access to specialized equipment, to study COVID,” said Magill.

Learn more about UCI’s available technologies.

*Main Illustration: Kate Wokowsky and Julie Kennedy, UCI Beall Applied Innovation