Rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases at the point of care: interview with Shawn Marcel, CEO of Torus Biosystems


Torus Biosystems, a medical technology startup that came out of Harvard’s Wyss Inspiration Institute of Biological Engineering, has developed the Synestia system, a diagnostic tool for the point of care for infectious diseases. The system aims to provide rapid and timely identification of pathogen care and incorporates microarrays and qPCR technology.

The company reports that the system allows the doctor to perform multiple tests on a device to detect all pathogens associated with a specific disease. Run time is fast, as the device provides results in just 30 minutes and more than 1,000 targets can be probed for each sample. Pathogen lysis and DNA / RNA extraction and purification occur on board.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for fast and reliable diagnostic technologies. The Synestia system can detect any pathogen, including the virus that causes COVID-19, as long as a nucleic acid sequence is available that uniquely identifies it.

Watch a video on the technology below.

Torus Biosystems has recently secured $ 25 million in funding. Medgadget He had the opportunity to speak with Shawn Marcel, CEO of Torus Biosystems, about the Synestia system.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us a quick description of infectious diseases and the burden it poses to society.

Shawn Marcel, Torus Biosystems: Infectious diseases are disorders caused by microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are easily transmitted from one person to another. Examples include influenza, HIV / AIDS, Ebola, tuberculosis, and COVID-19. When it comes to the burden of infectious diseases, keep in mind what we have all incurred over the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and businesses closed, travel was restricted and many people stayed home, causing financial hardship, stressed health systems and mental health problems. COVID-19 is just one of many infectious diseases, and by itself caused life as we know it. The World Health Organization reports that more than 17 million people worldwide die each year from infectious diseases.

Medgadget: How are infectious pathogens traditionally identified? How is this suboptimal?

Shawn Marcel: Traditionally, infectious pathogens are identified by culture. For example, if a urinary tract infection is suspected, a urine sample is collected and placed in conditions that favor the growth of microorganisms for 1-2 days. If there is growth, the specific organism is identified by a microscope. To obtain specific therapeutic guidelines, an additional antimicrobial susceptibility test may be performed another day to determine the best course of treatment.

The crop is not optimal mainly due to the prolonged time to results and the unreliability of the results. Clinicians are stuck guessing between 1 and 3 days while waiting for definitive cultural results. And it is possible that these definitive results never come from the laboratory because the culture often misses the causative pathogen. This waiting game results in poor antibiotic administration due to inappropriate antibiotic use and suboptimal patient outcomes.

Medgadget: Give us an overview of syndrome testing.

Shawn Marcel: Syndromes are a group of symptoms that occur constantly together. Historically, clinical laboratories employed multiple analytical approaches to maximize the broad detection of pathogens associated with a specific syndrome. Since the beginning of the 21st century, innovative molecular multiplex in vitro diagnostic tests (IVDs) have been available, and these IVDs are able to detect a wide range of pathogens that together can cause a single clinical syndrome. This became known as the syndromic panel approach for pathogen testing.

Medgadget: How does the point of care system developed by Torus Biosystems work? Give us an overview of DNA / RNA detection technology at the heart of the system.

Shawn Marcel: The Torus Synestia system works perfectly integrating convection-based qPCR, a washable microarray and proprietary probes. When a sample is introduced into the system, the pathogenic cells are lysed, extracted, purified and presented in DNA / RNA in the reaction chamber. All reagents and microarray are included in the closed chamber. As a thermal cycle occurs, the amplified target sequences hybridize to the microarray and the optical module of the system detects a fluorescent signal. For each sample, more than 1,000 targets can be detected simultaneously in less than 30 minutes.

Medgadget: What types of pathogens can the system detect? Is it useful during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Shawn Marcel: The Torus Synestia system can detect any pathogen. All we need is the unique nucleic acid sequence to undertake essentially this specific pathogen. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Torus Synestia system can detect SARS-CoV-2 and can differentiate all mutant variants and strains, such as the United Kingdom, and identify other known coronaviruses, RSV and influenza A / B. Torus expects this panel to be available for purposes of public health.

Medgadget: What inspired you to develop this system? How will this latest round of funding help you make your technology available to clinicians?

Shawn Marcel: I have been around the building a few times on medical diagnosis and know the clear need for better quality diagnostic information at the point of care. Torus technology was introduced to me while I was a resident entrepreneur at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Knowing the challenges other manufacturers face in the syndromic testing space, I saw the clear potential to affect patients ’health and outcomes. And that sentiment was echoed by investors who took part in our recently closed Series A financing round. Funding will strengthen our development efforts so that we can accelerate the timeline to make this technology widely available.

Link: Home page of Torus Biosystems …

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