MARYLAND, USA — A Maryland biotech company is hoping to help doctors save lives by developing a new test that would indicate how severe a COVID case could become.
IES Life Sciences has partnered with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne to develop the patented test, which will be administered via nasal swabs, like the majority of the standard COVID tests, once a patient has tested positive.
When the pandemic hit in February, IES Life Sciences pivoted the cancer detection technology it had been working on to measure the immune response to COVID-19 in patients. With that knowledge, they said physicians should be able to better focus their resources on the patients who need them most.
Director of Research and Development, Dr. Robert Figliozzi, said so far the team has tested a few hundred samples to measure the success of their technology. They're working to procure thousands more.
“We're looking at individuals' ... total immune health, and how they're responding to this infection," Dr. Figliozzi said. "And we're grouping them into little groups. And different groups have different severity levels.”
Scientific Founder of IES, Dr. Ronald Jubin, said from the data they collect, the team will develop an algorithm to give doctors a clear, standard response with their test.
"What you're going to get [is] … maybe two or three levels. So no disease, low disease, high disease," Dr. Jubin said. "The doctor needs to look at and say if I score, if a patient has a score of 10, or a one or a five. And they need to easily understand what that means.”
For CEO David Spiegel, the mission quickly became personal due to the impacts of COVID-19 on his family.
“My cousin died on a Saturday from COVID. My mother died on the Sunday from COVID ... same weekend," he said.
Spiegel said the team is continuing to test more samples as they apply for an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA, and added that the goal is to roll out the test with their university partners and hospitals in Maryland and then expand from there.
“It can make everybody's life easier, particularly the patient and the hospitals because we can't see them overloaded again --- like they were before (at the beginning of the pandemic)," Spiegel said.
"It's incredible in the field of science to see the level of collaboration that has occurred," Dr. Figliozzi said. "At this point in time, people are coming together in different areas of expertise and applying their time and energy and knowledge. It's really a great attribute of our society."
So far, the company has raised money through the crowdfunding platform Music Beats Cancer, which helps researchers and innovators raise funds to get lifesaving tools for cancer — or COVID, in this case — to market.
“There's so few sources of funding to support entrepreneurs who have startups, but who have cancer solutions in hand. And there's a good reason because these cancer solutions are risky. They take a lot of cash. Nobody wants to invest in something that is so risky," founder, Dr. Mona Jhaveri said. "So, Music Beats Cancer is meant to be sort of a paradigm shift as to how we fight and finance the war on cancer.”
Dr. Jubin said the end goal is to save lives.
"We're taking something that's already been in the in the blood that hasn't been looked at in the precise way that we're doing it," Dr. Jubin said. "And because it's precise, reproducible and accurate, you're going to have a real result that's going to work across the population, and obviously in this case the COVID population."
Professor and Chair of UMES' Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Dr. S. Victor Hsia, shared the following statement about the partnership:
"As a public research university, UMES is excited by its collaborative partnership with IES, Inc. using the company’s patented technology to analyze inflammatory biomarkers as a signature of specific diseases.
Our public-private partnership has enabled UMES students to work with and learn from IES scientists and statisticians. This collaboration has even produced a manuscript outlining research into sexually transmitted viruses that is scheduled to be published in the journal “Viral Immunology” this June.
It is our belief this cutting-edge technology can be used in the diagnoses of COVID-19 disease severity."
He said before they launch the finished product, they plan to consult with doctors to see what iteration would be most useful.
The company's fundraising campaign is still open for anyone who wants to contribute to their efforts.