U.S. and New Zealand Scientists from Orbis Diagnostics Collaborate on COVID-19 Mass Immunity Testing to Enable Quarantine-free International Travel
NEW YORK, July 27, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Spurred on by the World Health Organization's warning it might take as long as four to five years to control COVID-19, a team of New Zealand and American scientists have commenced developing a rapid, high volume, low cost, and highly accurate quantitative immune testing platform.
"Until a vaccine is widely distributed there are significant barriers to travel between countries which puts severe stress on economic recovery," says Professor Cather Simpson, an American-New Zealand physicist and chemist at the University of Auckland. "Rapid point-of-need testing for immunity can enable a return to safe and quarantine-free international travel," she adds.
Orbis Diagnostics, co-founded by Professor Simpson and Professor David Williams, a leading authority in electrochemistry and chemical sensors, has brought together an international team with significant depth in novel diagnostic development and deployment. Professor Williams, as Chief Scientist, led the development of Alere's globally leading Clearblue digital pregnancy and ovulation rapid strip tests and the first at-home fingerpick cardiac biomarker test.
The Orbis-designed platform will provide simultaneous and quantitative testing for large groups of people to deliver medical laboratory ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay) precision results in as few as 5-15 minutes. A small finger prick of blood is drawn from each traveler for on-the-spot testing. The goal is for COVID-immune individuals to bypass mandatory quarantine, with results authenticated to passports by identifying who is safe to travel without risk to themselves or others. The Orbis equipment is an automated centrifugal microfluidic system the size of a desktop printer. It can be deployed at entry points to key facilities such as airports, hospitals, and other locations critical to national and community infrastructure, and will provide a robust, portable, accurate immunoassay process. In addition, it was designed to be operated by non-technically qualified staff to allow its widespread deployment.
The WHO has expressed concern that the current rapid strip antibody tests are not able to reveal the extent of a person's immunity, because they only assess the presence of antibodies but do not quantify their levels. Quantitative determination of antibody levels is essential for assessing degree of immunity for an individual. Though accurate testing can be conducted in a medical lab, doing so is time consuming, expensive, requires experienced technicians, and is not scalable for use at locations such as airports, where timely mass testing is required. Furthermore, standards and methods can differ significantly from country to country
Orbis is seeking US$10 million to adapt its platform system for the quantitative detection of the COVID-19 virus and antibodies produced after infection, to productize its system, to conduct clinical studies and begin deployment. The system is expected to commence commercial manufacturing within 12 months.
The Orbis Diagnostics team has been joined by NYC-based Dr. Allan Goldberg who will serve as a Board member. He is a biotechnology CEO and entrepreneur, who is experienced in the foundation, management, financing, governance, and sale of start-up companies. Dr. Goldberg was a professor of virology at The Rockefeller University where his lab focused on viral oncology.
The scientific and management teams have been brought together by Pacific Channel, an early-stage investment and development firm focused on building successful deep-tech ventures from New Zealand. Pacific Channel is chaired by La Jolla, C.A.-based Dr. Gary Pace, an experienced serial entrepreneur in large-scale life sciences ventures in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
Orbis is working with D&K Engineering, a San Diego-based global leader in the development of products and instruments that have a high innovation content and complex manufacturing requirements, to productize and manufacture its system. Biometric companies which operate at airport gates throughout the world are informing Orbis on design and deployment requirements.
The Orbis team draws strongly from New Zealand's world-leading agritech industry to apply expertise to the COVID-19 recovery efforts. Professor Simpson led Pacific Channel's microfluidics and photonics company Engender Technologies that successfully developed a microfluidic cell sorting livestock technology that was sold in late 2018 for a significant return to its investors. In addition to his pioneering work at Alere, Professor Williams has experience developing robust diagnostic methods and equipment for measuring the health of cow herds during milking. "The sample collection process is time-sensitive, and is carried out in a difficult environment requiring minimal intervention and the need for fast and highly accurate results – similar to the conditions in airports during a pandemic."
The tourism industry contributes approximately 10.3% of global gross domestic product and generates roughly one in four of the world's new jobs during the past five years, according to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents private companies in the industry. An analysis by WTTC stated that the sudden halt in global travel due to the pandemic could result in more than 100 million job losses this year and an estimated $2.7 trillion decline in travel and tourism GDP in 2020.
"We all hope that vaccines are the long-term solution, however the first vaccines may only protect half of those who receive it, and for only 12 months," says Orbis CEO Brent Ogilvie, who also is managing partner of Pacific Channel. "Enabling freedom of movement is key to economic recovery, and we believe that the Orbis immunity testing platform can provide a solution for travel dependent industries desperate for a return to viability. Our platform system combines the accuracy, quantification, and robust repeatability of a medical laboratory with the speed and portability of a rapid test strip."
Brent Ogilvie added, "As an investor looking to create lasting impact, a key advantage of Orbis is the ease by which the system can be readily adapted to quantitatively measure the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 family of viruses, and in anticipation of further viral outbreaks, the presence of virtually any other virus and the antibodies it induces following infection."
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