Gates Foundation backs 'instrument-free' molecular diagnostic tests through Sherlock, Mologic tie-up

Sherlock Biosciences, maker of CRISPR-based field tests, is partnering up with Mologic to develop a suite of rapid and “instrument-free” molecular diagnostics that work without the need for electricity or temperature controls.

The goal is to deliver sophisticated yet simple-to-use medical tests to previously untapped or underserved areas—including in the home, as well as in low-resource settings—and the two companies are enlisting the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to do it. 

Combining Sherlock’s work in detecting specific pieces of DNA and RNA with Mologic’s developments in highly sensitive lateral flow tests, similar in structure to the ubiquitous home pregnancy test, will help advance a new field of stable and affordable diagnostic platforms, the companies said. 

The collaboration will be facilitated in part through an expansion of a previous Gates Foundation grant given to the U.K.-based Mologic, which now plans to expand its footprint in Sherlock’s home of Cambridge, Massachusetts, through a new joint development center.   

“By leveraging both companies’ core technologies, we believe we can create extremely sensitive diagnostic tests that produce results with unprecedented speed, without requiring instrumentation, thermal amplification or electricity,” Mologic co-founder and CEO Mark Davis said in a statement. 

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Sherlock launched earlier this year with a synthetic biology-based platform dubbed INSPECTR. Short for INternal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction, the instrument-free, paper-based system is stable at room temperature and is designed to be programmed to detect particular nucleic acid targets.

Mologic’s core immunoassay platforms include ELTABA—for Enzymatic Ligand Transformation Affinity Binding Assay—which identifies enzyme activity by detecting cleavage sites with antibodies. Meanwhile, the company’s lateral flow-based CARD platform, developed with support from the Gates Foundation, operates without the need for electricity to deliver a fast and visual result. 

The CARD platform, named for Mologic’s Centre for Advanced Rapid Diagnostics, first demonstrated uses in malaria and HIV diagnostics; it is now being used across the company’s portfolio and in external partnerships. 

“We believe there is a unique and powerful synergy between Mologic and Sherlock, and we are delighted to have the Gates Foundation support our efforts to combine our first- and best-in-class technology platforms for nucleic acid sensing, super-antibody engineering, ultra-sensitive lateral flow assays, and enzyme activity detection,” said Davis.