Could BioMeme's Handheld PCR Disrupt The Diagnostics Market?
Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a robust and widely used method for biological investigation because it can detect and quantify very small amounts of specific DNA sequences. As a research tool, the technology gives a rapid and accurate assessment of changes in gene expression, giving a better understanding of biological processes. It can also be used in the fields of food safety and microbial risk assessment of water safety. In clinical diagnostics, it plays an important part in rapidly detecting infectious diseases, cancers and genetic abnormalities. However, the powerful tool comes with a hefty price tag.
The Philadelphia-based startup Biomeme has developed a real-time PCR thermocycler that attaches to an iPhone, enabling the user to perform gold-standard DNA analysis in the field. The product combines a two-minute, syringe-based disposable sample prep kit with a mini thermocycler that plugs directly into an iPhone to become a handheld PCR instrument. The machine includes a fully functional heating and cooling system, as well as optics to illuminate the PCR reaction in real-time in order to quantify the presence of specific DNA. The smartphone is connected via Bluetooth before it is slotted into the device like a docking station. The disposable sample prep kit designed to detect specific diseases is sold separately, and after a quick sample prep, it is inserted into the top of the thermal cycler. The device is powered for up to 10 tests and the entire process has been simplified to make sure that anyone can perform the test.
Biomeme has developed an interesting device with the power of a DNA lab. The technology has huge potential, with application in multiple industries. It can be used in fieldwork, including food and water security, education, low-resource settings, and it could even have a potential application in private homes. With its portability, simplicity and expected low cost, the system also has a clear potential in point-of-care settings. And the platform can be used with any real-time PCR assay.
Although it has the potential to disrupt the diagnostics industry by giving faster test results to patients and ultimately providing a more efficient service and treatment, it might not provide value for physicians. From a doctors perspective, is it not just simpler and even more efficient to send the samples to someone who can analyze them for you? Not to speak of the cost of having to buy various expensive test kits. And if it is going to be used in an office setting, why use your smartphone? Is it even possible to use without a smartphone?
Although there is some amazing potential in this device, in multiple industries and markets, there are also some unanswered questions. And that might be the biggest problem. It has a beautiful design, simplifying PCR to make it available to anyone, in any setting. However, the platform is almost taking on too much. It is not clear what current problem they are solving or for what specific setting because the technology has such a wide application. To be honest, I’m not convinced that using a smartphone is the best answer because I personally would not want it near my samples, but I am confident that there is a huge market for the device.
Biomeme has developed tests for the agriculture and veterinary industry, biothreat, food and water testing, genetics and human pathogens. The device is currently in testing and they are working with a women’s health clinic at Drexel University to validate tests for sexually transmitted infections in a clinical study. You can help further develop the device by contacting Biomeme.