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With Fresh Funding, Senzo Looks Ahead to a New Era of Point-Of-Care Diagnostics and Growth in Philadelphia
As COVID-19 BA.5 subvariant cases have been on the rise, so too have been the use of at-home rapid tests. Vacation-goers are using them to assess whether they’ll actually be able to go on that international trip they’ve been planning for months. Others are using them as a pre-check before getting together with friends and family, especially if they’ll be around those who are immunocompromised.
While COVID rapid tests have been an invaluable tool in helping folks get back to some sense of normalcy, infectious disease experts and healthcare professionals have warned that a negative rapid test is not necessarily a golden ticket, with false negatives being more common than you might think, especially if you’re asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms at the time of testing.
And while molecular-based PCR tests are the superior method, it’s inconvenient to go to the clinic and wait for results when you have a flight booked to Hawaii that you can’t get a refund on.
Senzo Health is working to change COVID-19 testing with its Amplified Lateral Flow (ALF) COVID-19 antigen test, which combines the sensitivity and specificity of molecular assays with the convenience of a point-of-care diagnostic, with results in under 10 minutes.
The process is the same as other rapid tests, with an additional step where the user adds a specialized enzyme solution. The reagent works to amplify the analyte signal without amplifying other debris and noise that could result in a false positive.
Recently the company announced a $2 million equity funding round led by BioAdvance, a Philly-based venture capital firm, which will help the team take their ALF COVID-19 antigen test to the market. Wellness Coaches, a national provider of health and wellness services that includes point-of-care diagnostics, also participated in the round and will play an integral role in helping to connect the company with consumers, decision makers, and physicians.
In an interview with BioBuzz, Senzo CEO Jeremy Stackawitz noted that the stage has been set for the company’s COVID test to enter the clinic in September. If all goes well, Senzo anticipates filing for an EUA by the end of the year and launching to market in Q1 2023.
While multiple other COVID tests are already on the market, Jeremy envisions that Senzo’s COVID tests will fill in an important gap in providing a PCR-comparable, affordable point-of-care diagnostic that can be taken easily in the comfort of one’s home. And with another school year starting back up, it’s doubtful that the need for reliable COVID testing will diminish anytime soon.
Big Plans Beyond COVID
While COVID has certainly been top of mind for the past 2.5+ years, we can’t forget that there are many other infectious diseases out there where diagnostics would be immensely helpful. In addition to COVID, Senzo is also utilizing its lateral flow diagnostic platform for flu A/B, RSV, tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis C, just to name a few.
“Right now, the pipeline for many diseases is that you go to your doctor and describe your symptoms. The doctor might prescribe a medicine that they think might work, or they might send you to an outside lab to give a sample, such as a blood draw,” said Jeremy. “You go give your sample and wait a few days for a nurse to call you with the results. It takes time and can be very inconvenient, as well as expensive.”
“COVID-19 has changed the way people view diagnostics – instead of going to central labs, can we apply what we’ve learned to be able to just as easily test for other infectious diseases? This isn’t a new concept, but for non-COVID diseases it’s been challenging to create point-of-care tests that are able to meet FDA standards,” Jeremy added.
With COVID opening up the door, the company says it is well positioned to quickly adapt its technology to other indications. The opportunities are immense and could include:
- Determining whether your infection is viral of bacterial, which informs HCPs whether or not they should prescribe antibiotics. This mitigates the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria that emerge due to blinding prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection.
- Diagnosing flu early enough that medications such as Tamiflu® can be effective.
- Detecting diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV in low-resource areas and countries where central lab testing is inconvenient or nonexistent.
- Being able to quickly screen new hospital patients for diseases such as MRSA and C.diff, which can be particularly devastating if spread to older patients or those who are immunocompromised.
- Testing for sexually transmitted infections in the privacy of ones’ home, easing feelings of embarassment and hesitance to get tested in a more public setting.
- Diagnosing various diseases in pets and farm animals.
Growing Roots in Philly
Right now, most of the Senzo team is based in London, UK. And while Jeremy enjoys his trips across the pond, he said he’s looking forward to building out the Philadelphia team.
“I’ve lived in the Philly area for many years – I got my graduate degree from UPenn and never left. It’s a great hotbed for not only big pharma, but also a lot of cutting edge research and startups. It’s a wonderful community with a fantastic talent pool,” he said.
And make no mistake – this isn’t Jeremy’s first rodeo with growing an international company to have a US presence. Before coming on as Senzo’s CEO, he worked at Scotland-based Quotient and played a heavy hand in growing the company from a team of 30 to over 500, with much of the talent being state-side.
As Senzo looks ahead to pursuing additional capital in the first half of 2023, the team will also be looking to bring on BD, commercial, customer service, and administrative hires as a top priority, with the possibility of also bringing on regulatory professionals and scientists.
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Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz’s Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.