Wielding CRISPR to capture the signs of disease
CEO: Trevor Martin
Based: South San Francisco, California
The scoop: Equipped with tech from the lab of its co-founder, CRISPR pioneer and Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna, Mammoth Biosciences aims to use the editing method for more than just snipping and splicing genetic code: The company is building a biological, customizable search engine for clinicians and researchers.
Built into a diagnostic, the applications are relatively straightforward: When a CRISPR enzyme programmed for a specific string of genetic code matches up with its target, letter-for-letter—for example, the DNA or RNA behind a viral or bacterial infection—it takes action and releases a signal that shows up as a positive result on a test.
This promises to deliver accurate results on par with PCR tests, while ultimately requiring less hardware and fewer laboratory resources.
“There's this classic trade-off that people have been making in diagnostics for decades now: do you want a gold-standard molecular result, or do you want something that's easy and fast?” co-founder and CEO Trevor Martin said in an interview.
“I think the promise of what we are building at Mammoth is disrupting that trade off—saying why can't we get something that's molecular and high accuracy, but also has many of the advantages of a rapid test.”
What makes Mammoth fierce: One of the most pertinent uses of Mammoth’s diagnostic approach has surfaced over the past year—with the spread of COVID-19—and the company has begun working with a number of large biopharma players to package its system into tests designed for widespread use against the pandemic.
Mammoth first received an emergency authorization from the FDA last August for a CRISPR reagent kit that allows COVID tests to be performed by hand using a standard well plate. It’s also been tapped by GlaxoSmithKline to develop a disposable, over-the-counter test.
More recently, Mammoth has teamed up with Agilent Technologies to build its test into an automated platform, capable of processing more than 4,000 samples per day.
It has also signed on to commercialization projects with MilliporeSigma and Hamilton Company to develop high-throughput solutions that could be incorporated into laboratories’ established liquid sample handling processes.
“It'll be a very transformative step for CRISPR-based diagnostics, because this will be the first technology that's working at scale,” Martin said. “We've shown that CRISPR diagnostics can work for COVID-19, but this will be the first time that it will actually be adopted by labs.”
Mammoth has also received manufacturing scale-up support from the National Institutes of Health’s RADx diagnostics accelerator program. Its systems would potentially sit between the larger, integrated PCR diagnostic instruments and any slower kits that a laboratory might have kept on hand for occasional infectious disease testing prior to the pandemic.
“I think there's this huge opportunity for the thousands of CLIA labs around the world that aren't giant warehouses of tests and machines, but also have huge demand as they try to help out their communities,” Martin said. “They can take Mammoth’s CRISPR technology and put it on the liquid handlers they already have.”
Mammoth’s goals also reach far beyond COVID-19, including plans to develop its reagents into multiplexed tests capable of scanning for several diseases at once, as well as toolkits for genome editing and discovering entirely new CRISPR protein systems.
It has begun work to develop tests for the U.S. Department of Defense, including a hand-held screener for at least 10 pathogens, and a lab test to parse clinical and environmental samples for more than 1,000 disease targets simultaneously.
“We’ve been screaming from the rooftops about the need for these types of infectious disease tests since the founding of the company,” Martin said. “COVID has just accelerated the timeline for that, and has brought external recognition to this gap in the diagnostics industry that we want to fill.”
Investors: Mammoth Biosciences raised $45 million in its January 2020 series B round, led by Decheng Capital with support from Mayfield, NFX, Verily, Brook Byers, Plum Alley, Pacific 8, aMoon and others.