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Agile Biodetection Licenses SARS-CoV-2 Detection Tech From Harvard Wyss Institute

NEW YORK – Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering announced Monday its nasopharyngeal swab and toehold switch technologies have been licensed by Agile Biodetection to develop diagnostic solutions for SARS-CoV-2. 

Harvard's Office of Technology coordinated the non-exclusive, royalty-free licensing agreement, which allows Agile to detect SARS-CoV-2 in environmental or clinical settings. The agreement is a part of the COVID-19 Technology Access Framework, started by Harvard, to "incentivize the rapid utilization of available technologies that can facilitate the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention" of SARS-CoV-2, the university said. 

The Wyss Institute's nasopharyngeal swabs were developed in response to the global swab shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic and are fully injection-molded from one material. The swabs can be mass manufactured in one step, making them faster and cheaper to produce, and were "demonstrated to effectively collect" SARS-CoV-2 material from patients more comfortably than other products, the institute said in a statement.

The synthetic nucleic acid-based toehold switches act as sensors for external stimuli, such as RNA molecules, the institute said. They can be integrated into synthetic gene circuits to turn on a gene of interest and function in living cells as computational devices that can report environmental stimuli. When they are turned off, the toehold switches block the expression of a target gene until the input RNA binds to their toehold region, allowing for synthesis of the signaling molecule.

Researchers have also utilized toehold switches for paper-based synthetic gene circuits for infectious diseases. They have high sensitivity and specificity and can be used to monitor the presence of pathogens in a variety of environments, the institute added. 

Birmingham, Alabama-based Agile Biodetection is focused on detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the environment, instead of testing patients for the virus, looking at surfaces and touchpoints in high-traffic areas. The firm also has a high-throughput cloud-based system to distribute the testing results.