Guilford health care entrepreneur’s company working on in-home coronavirus test

Jonathan Rothberg, founder of 454 Life Sciences, (left) sits next to James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix and father of the Human Genome Project, during a press conference at the Baylor College of Medicine, in 2007, in Houston. Watson became the first human to receive his own personal genome sequence thanks to a project, supported by the 454 Life Sciences company and the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center. The project only took two months to complete. A task that was referred to by the contributors of the project as unbelievable.” ( Johnny Hanson / For the Chronicle)

A Guilford-based entrepreneur and biomedical engineer is racing against time as one of his companies seeks to develop an low-cost, in-home test for the coronavirus.

Jonathan Rothberg said his company, Homodeus, “is working around the clock to accomplish that goal.” Homodeus is one of the companies that are based out of a business incubator that Rothberg developed in Guilford.

“We are developing for deployment and testing what would be the first rapid home test based on the genetic code of the Covid19 virus,” Rothberg said. “The goal is to have you spit and get results in 30 minutes. And then scan the results into your iPhone; as simple and fast as a home pregnancy test.”

Rothberg said his team is also making a companion app for iPhones and Android devices to work with the test, read it, and share information in order to more accurately report on the outbreak.

The New Haven native is no stranger to innovation, having founded one of the area’s early biopharmacutical companies, CuraGen, and Hyperfine Research, which last month received federal Food and Drug Administration approval to begin marketing a bedside MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, device.

To develop the coronavirus home testing kit, Rothberg said Homodeus officials “are leveraging all of our past experience to create and scale it as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

“At my previous company, Ion Torrent (now Thermo Fisher), we developed much more complex diagnostic test kits that are used by thousands of testing laboratories around the world and have already helped in many pathogen outbreaks,” he said.

Once Rothberg’s team has finalized all the details of how the test will work, the next step will be testing to determine that the product does what it is supposed to.

“For this we are already in discussions with Penn and Yale to verify the test at their hospitals and clinical sites as quickly as possible,” he said. “Expect first kits to academic medical labs in next few weeks.”

Rothberg did not say, when asked how much the coronavirus test kits might cost. He said as is the case with the bedside MRI, “we sell to people that can afford it and work with charities and organizations (including the Gates Foundation) to support those who cannot.”

“Our goal is twofold: To save the lives of the people we love, and to enable access to improved health care through our medical devices to the 7.5 billion people around the world that need it,” Rothberg said. “It is in our DNA to help with this pandemic. We have the skills, will and motivation.”

He rejected the the question of whether, given the complex nature of the coronavirus, using a test as simple as a pregnancy test might not be the best idea.

“We will be running our test side by side thousands of times at academic testing laboratories against the standard CDC approved test,” Rothberg said. “We will work with Penn and their hospital, and Yale and their hospitals and clinics.”

Angela Mattie, a professor of management and medical sciences at Quinnipiac University, said she is not familiar with the details of the coronavirus home test that Rothberg and his company are working on. The expected growth rate of coronavirus tests in Connecticut and around the world requires a willingness “to be open to innovation” in order to bring such a product to market as quickly as possible, Mattie said.

“The key is to get people tested and we don’t have a lot of time,” she said. “We had such a lag because of the current administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge the data coining out of Italy is accurate. We want to know who is out in the community that is carrying this.”

Connecticut Media Group