It is inspiring to see evidence that the pace of innovation is narrowing the time between scientific curiosity and engineered scaling, leading to potential real world impacts within just a few years.
One example is Sherlock Biosceinces. Its CRISPR-based SHERLOCK™ and synthetic biology-based INSPECTR™ will bring together the accuracy of PCR with the convenience and simplicity of antigen tests for molecular diagnostics at the point-of-need. Powered by CRISPR and synthetic biology, Sherlock’s proprietary engineering biology tools offer a decentralized diagnostic platform for DNA and RNA detection. The Sherlock test uses Cas-12 and Cas-13 enzymes, but instead of being able to edit DNA, these can target the DNA or RNA sequences in a specific virus and insert a readable signal (diagnostic).
The company formed in 2019 to commercialize earlier findings from Feng Zhang and colleagues at the Broad Institute for detection of RNA sequences, based on CRISPR-Cas13 gene editing technology. Jim Collins, co-founder of Sherlock, is a professor at MIT and a core founding faculty member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Along with Zhang, David Walt, another Harvard professor, and a number of other researchers.
Discovered in bacteria in 2015, Cas12 is a more recent addition to the CRISPR family. In the last couple of years, Cas12 has gathered growing interest for its potential use in diagnost. Contrary to Cas9, which requires two RNAs to recognize and cut its target, and possesses no inherent RNAse activity, Cas12 processes its own guide RNAs (single RNA-guided endonuclease) and only requires crRNA for targeting.
According to a recent publication, the company claims detection of submicroscopic malaria in asymptomatic individuals is needed for eradication and remains a diagnostic gap in resource-limited settings. Nonfalciparum clinical diagnostics are a second gap, as these infections have a low parasite density and are commonly undetected. The company describes an integrated, 60-min, ultrasensitive and specific CRISPR-based diagnostic for the four major pathogenic Plasmodium species that can fill these gaps. Using the SHERLOCK (specific high-sensitivity enzymatic reporter unlocking) platform, the company designed assays with limits of detection below that recommended by the World Health Organization. These assays have a simplified sample preparation method: the SHERLOCK parasite rapid extraction protocol, which eliminates complicated nucleic acid extraction steps. Sherlock’s work further translates the SHERLOCK platform into a field-deployable diagnostic.
In March, Sherlock announced it raised $80 million in a Series B financing. The round was led by Novalis LifeSciences and included new investors Illumina Ventures, Albany Capital and Catalio Capital Management, among others. They joined Northpond Ventures, Good Ventures, and other existing investors, bringing $111 million in total funding raised to date.