Cambridge firm develops new COVID-19 test

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Biotechnology firm IES Life Sciences has responded to the global pandemic by refocusing its research from autoimmune to contagious diseases.

Originally founded to research respiratory diseases such as the flu, the Dorchester Innovation Center startup recently applied for a patent for their new COVID-19 test.

“Because our testing platforms can be used to address a multitude of diseases, we seamlessly shifted from the autoimmune to COVID-19 (infectious) space,” said IES CEO David Spiegel. “In addition to traditional diagnostic applications, we hope to see the Full Spectrum Interferon Fingerprint test used as a screening tool to limit disease spread.”

Predicting severity
The value of the FSIF test is its ability to stratify patients into degrees of disease severity. After watching the test being developed in the battle against COVID, Mr. Spiegel decided to tack a different direction.

“The test we developed at IES was missioned for COVID-19 use with asymptomatic individuals, capable of diagnosing the disease days or weeks prior to symptoms appearing,” he said.

Understanding how an individual patient is likely to respond to the coronavirus helps alleviate many burdens it places on the health care system.

By giving health care professionals the ability to anticipate COVID-19’s path up to two weeks before symptoms appear allows providers to allocate limited resources to best serve the patient population.

The company’s preliminary tests used samples from a commercial bio-bank. IES is currently participating in a pre-pilot study with Tulane University Hospital.

Together with Rob Figliozzi, director of research and development, IES has also applied for a Maryland Industrial Partnership Program grant to work with UMES on further test development.

Adapting business
While IES has a unique customer base of physicians, researchers and government entities, Mr. Spiegel believes that the key to success is listening to their changing needs and being flexible enough to adapt to meet them.

“In an ideal world, we would all go back to a ‘normal’ life and look at this pandemic as a blip in history. Unfortunately, that can’t happen now and may never happen,” he said.

As a biotechnology and life sciences company, IES already observed strict safety protocols that are standard in the scientific community. In the lab, staff wear full protective gear.

Mr. Spiegel believes that certain protocols implemented during the pandemic should be part of daily life in the future.

“In general, there need to be more permanent hand sanitizer stations available to the public, whether in the office, shopping or just doing recreational activities,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, face masks should be available at every building entrance and (we should) see temperature checks before entering.”

Rural advantage
For Mr. Spiegel, Dorchester County’s rural location has been a distinct advantage.

“While the spread of the disease by asymptomatic individuals is a big problem in larger cities, the general lack of congestion on the Eastern Shore helps limit the spread by people who have yet to show symptoms,” he said. “Folks in more rural locations like Dorchester and Somerset counties learn to look out for themselves and their neighbors, which makes for a greater quality of life, especially in times of crisis.”

IES approach
The body’s earliest response to infections/diseases is to make cellular proteins called interferons, commonly referred to as IFNs. IFNs are present in most diseases and viruses, and each virus/disease produces a unique set of the 21 different IFNs, the “IFN Signature.” IES has co-developed, with leading Food And Drug Administration scientists, the first and only comprehensive test to accurately and reliably identify the IFN Signature for a disease, a statement from the Dorchester Innovation Center said.

IES’s patented technology can detect and diagnose a wide variety of traditionally difficult-to-diagnose diseases, at the earliest possible stage, with a simple blood test. In addition, the test can be used as the cornerstone for the development of targeted therapeutics that attack diseases by regulating the immune system.

Identifying risk
Due to the complexity of coronaviruses like the one that causes COVID-19, a number of features from this virus block and disrupt our complex but usually very effective immune system.

Dr. Figliozzi said in a press release, “Our immune biomarker test identifies and quantifies the human immune system’s response to the virus and uses this information to identify those COVID-19 patients who are potentially at risk of developing a more severe case of the virus.”

Since each patient infected with COVID-19 reacts differently to the virus, the company is integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into the technology to utilize the test to help determine the likely course of the disease for each individual patient. In addition, “understanding how an individual patient is likely to respond to the disease will help alleviate many of the burdens that this disease places on our health care system and our society, as well as allow physicians and other health care professionals to allocate limited resources where they are needed most,” Mr. Spiegel said.

“The company is excited to be receiving help and support from some of the nation’s leading research university hospitals and lab groups as it performs the necessary validation trials. COVID-19 is an issue for the entire planet and FSIF COVID Biosciences is eager to contribute to the solution from our home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” Dr. Figliozzi said.

FSIF COVID-19 is not an FDA-approved test and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

Editor’s note: Part of this article was first posted by the Dorchester Innovation Center.

David Spiegel

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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