Roswell Biotechnologies is one those companies you want to ask what it does not plan to do. When the CEO Paul Mola says the San Diego-based company’s competition is Illumina, you know Roswell is aiming high.
Illumina is doing the sequencing at the scale that Roswell would like to.
Roswell, a maker of molecular electronics biosensor chips, announced a partnership with imec, a Belgium nanoelectronics and digital technologies company, to develop the first molecular electronics biosensor chips for a variety of uses, including DNA sequencing.
“It is a brand new type of sensor that has applications broadly from dealing with monitoring global pandemics to precision medicine to diagnostics, and using it for DNA digital storage,” Mola said.
New Class of Sensors
According to Roswell, molecular electronic sensor chips integrate single molecules as electrical sensor elements on standard semiconductor chips, making electronic biosensor devices massively scalable. While electronic biosensors have seen gradual adoption in DNA sequencing and other areas of testing, there have been no major innovations in basic biosensor technology. The Roswell molecular electronics sensors represent an entirely new class of sensors specifically designed to be maximally compatible with modern CMOS chip technology, delivering a technological breakthrough that significantly increases performance and lowers costs. This advance allows low-cost high-speed biomedical tests, including DNA sequencing and other forms of biomarkers sensing essential to modern medical diagnostics to be deployed on simple portable or handheld devices.
According to Roswell, commercial viability required the technology to be put on a standard chip. One of the significant hurdles to commercializing molecular electronics is the need for costly customized solutions for large scale manufacturing. Imec has overcome those challenges by utilizing state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing technology coupled with its deep experience in biosensor technology to commercialize molecular electronics using standard tools.”
CEO Mola discussed some of the interesting opportunities that he sees these advances in technology producing.
Roswell wants its tools to improve that doctor visit. “The technological Holy Grail application is to power precision medicine,” said Mola. “Today, when we go to the doctor, the information is small. We need to sequence people at a population scale.”
That information will help us learn when we see a sequence or mutation we know what to expect. You put patients into buckets and learn what is common among them. To do this, the price of sequencing needs to be reduced. Mola said we are still spending a $1,000 on sequencing. You need costs that insurance will not think too hard about.
Mola said we also need equipment for doctors’ offices that doesn’t take a Ph.D. technician to run it.
COVID and Environmental Surveillance
According to Roswell, its platform is the first to deliver the power of molecular electronic applications. This included the spectrum of tests necessary for the detection and containment of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new tools, such as biosensors. Suddenly, we find a worldwide need for environmental surveillance.
“We need to capture or stop a pandemic at its source which means you need routine continuous surveillance of environment where COVID could be,” Mola said. “It could take swabbing desks, checking air quality, checking airport countertops.
“Mobile units need to be distributed globally. Every hour or so all the data collected is used for a global map of potential pandemics.
“Rather than shut down a country, you can shut down an office block, shut down a room or an airport terminal,” Mola said. “To do that cost is huge, turnaround time in important you need results in minutes, and also simplicity.”
Mola sees a big job ahead that will take a lot of collaboration.
“We’ve not seen anything like this before,” Mola said. “It will need a super infrastructure.” And require the participation of the big tech companies to pull it off.
Diagnostics Do the Tracking
By sequencing a virus, you would also know what mutation you are dealing with, and can adapt treatment to take that into consideration, Roswell said.
As for COVID, Roswell said sequencing is the best diagnostic as opposed to antibodies. With sequencing you not only find out you have it but where it came from. Which means that when these viral diseases show up, they have a given genomic sequence. As that virus mutates, you capture the various disease presentations. You get all sorts of more comprehensive information that sequencing provides.
You could find out what mutation you are dealing with and where it has been and where is it going.
There might be a weaker mutation of a virus for which you should be told to go home and ride it out an illness. While if you had the stronger version of an illness, you could be told to go to the hospital and get on a ventilator.
It is not done today because of cost, speed and complexity.
As the world moves toward peak storage, Roswell turns to DNA again.
The scale of storage is going to overwhelm us. According to Mola, current technology won’t be able to meet the demand for storage. The information will overwhelm the hard drive, likely in 10 to 20 years.
“Let’s mimic, how nature stores info in DNA,” Mola said. “DNA is dense, it lives forever and it is robust. All the world’s current digital information could fit on a sugar cube…a sugar cube.”
Mola is excited about the innovation and hopes to go commercial in 2021.
“We are taking a technology that is pretty advance, CMOS” Mola said. “It is all about scalability. With Roswell the sensor itself is designed to be fully scalable out the gate. The molecule put on a chip marries well, gives tremendous potential for scalability.”
“For the first time take a molecule and integrate it into electronics package that makes the molecule part of the circuit and deploy that on CMOS chip,” Mola said. “We are pretty excited to be the first to make such a chip. We’ve demonstrated that we have the sensitivity to read and understand from a sort of electronics perspective what that molecule is doing by observing the signature of the current and know at the same time what we are observing. It is pretty interesting for us to have sort of brought this to the market. And we hope the time and place is coming in the next 5-10 years when you buy a computer at home that computer will have some molecular electronics circuit because it provides another level of scaling beyond CMOS. It is super exciting, a big contribution to technology.”