It’s hard to imagine a startup better positioned to respond to the coronavirus pandemic than Beverly, Massachusetts-based LexaGene. The company is developing a fully automated genetic analyzer to identify pathogens, bacteria and viruses like the coronavirus, designed to be used at the site of sample collection and return results in about one hour.
Founder and CEO Dr. Jack Regan, a virologist who did his post-doctoral training at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, compares the analyzer to a Keurig coffee maker, albeit one that handles 27 pods at once.
The LexaGene analyzer can test for up to 27 pathogens at once. It is about 10 inches wide by 15 inches tall by 18 inches deep and has a small screen where the results of the testing are displayed.
“It’s small enough to fit in a cramped emergency room space, but it’s being built to be a gold standard of testing,” Regan said.
Launched in October 2016, LexaGene went public immediately, tapping into capital in Canada, “even though all we had was my name and reputation,” Regan said. The company has since done six capital raises totaling $18 million and has secured two patents. LexaGene has four pending patents as well.
President and co-founder Daryl Rebeck was formerly vice president and senior investment advisor with Canada’s largest independent investment bank, Canaccord Genuity.
LexaGene planned to first target veterinarians with its analyzer because there is currently no on-site infectious disease testing for dogs and cats. Also, the company’s first instrument isn’t set up to handle the needs of potential clients such as large food processing plants, which would have an obvious use for such a device on-site.
“They will want to process a hundred, if not several hundred samples a day,” Regan said. “Ours is designed for up to 24 samples a day. It meets the needs of veterinary clinics, but falls short of food processing plants.”
Which brings us to the much more urgent question of testing for the coronavirus. In a news release earlier this month, LexaGene noted that the U.S. Food And Drug Administration is encouraging manufacturers to submit applications for Emergency Use Authorization to help address the lack of quality diagnostics to fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that has put the world into a tailspin.
The Emergency Use Authorization, which was also used during the Ebola outbreak, streamlines the approval process.
“Due to the overwhelming interest in LexaGene’s rapid, on-site analyzer for the detection of novel infectious diseases like COVID-19, LexaGene is taking every measure to accelerate its FDA (Emergency Use Authorization) submission,” the news release states.
Regan had initially hoped to introduce the company’s first instrument to veterinary clinics some time this summer. The coronavirus pandemic has obviously affected those plans. LexaGene is performing in-house testing using the Center for Disease Control’s coronavirus test, but is also developing tests of its own for SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19.
Regan said LexaGene is on track to deliver its first commercial detection system by early fall, which will help in the effort to deal with the pandemic. Even if the number of cases of COVID-19 subsides this summer, Regan expects the number to increase in the fall. He said COVID-19 is likely to become a seasonal pathogen, like the flu.