Sense of urgency: Koch partnering to develop rapid COVID-19 test

Article by Koch Newsroom

Phillips-Medisize is helping Sense Biodetection produce a first-of-its-kind molecular diagnostic test that can be administered anywhere and provides a diagnosis in less than 10 minutes

In his 20 years with Phillips-Medisize, a Koch medical technology company, few projects have been more personal to Justin Westendorf than the one he’s working on right now. Westendorf is part of a multi-disciplinary team that is partnering with UK-based Sense Biodetection to develop an instrument-free, point-of-care molecular diagnostic test designed to diagnose COVID-19 quickly, from anywhere.

And no deadline has ever been as critical, because for Westendorf and millions of others around the world with immunocompromised loved ones, time is of the essence.

“My dad is fighting cancer,” said Westendorf from his home office in Hudson, Wisconsin, tears restrained. “He was having a really hard week, and I couldn’t physically be there for him.”

In a pandemic, every second counts. Sitting at home one Saturday in mid-March, Westendorf was watching the news reports as those seconds ticked away. He knew the only way to safely visit his dad would be through a test that could quickly clear him of asymptomatically carrying the virus. He also knew he could do something about it.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Westendorf and his team had begun working with Sense to help develop and produce a pilot line of rapid tests for their influenza program, called Veros, a project the Phillips-Medisize team had won on the strength of its integrated product and manufacturing development process – and the passion of its people.

“During their visit, we introduced them to the team that would be working on the Veros platform,” said Phillips-Medisize business opportunity manager Jess Schladweiler. “And when it came time to make a decision, they said they liked our competence and integrated product development and manufacturing organizations. What set us apart was, our team wanted it more.”

Seeing the global need for a more accessible COVID-19 test, and with his own personal desire to see his family, Westendorf realized the potential solution exists in the product he was helping develop. That realization motivated him to contact Sense immediately.

“I wanted to call those guys right away and say, ‘How can we get this ready in 90 days?’,” said Westendorf. “I reached out via e-mail and asked if we could talk, but they wanted to respect my weekend.”

But he didn’t have to wait long. Monday morning, he had the answer he’d been hoping for sitting in his inbox. The Sense Biodetection team wanted to know how quickly Westendorf and his team could pivot the Veros influenza program to focus on COVID-19 instead.

So began the accelerated development of Sense’s Veros COVID-19 test, the world’s first instrument-free, point-of-care molecular diagnostic test for the new coronavirus. While many current diagnostic tests require available test preparation materials, a test cartridge and a piece of testing equipment, Sense indicates that the Veros test is self-contained, can be administered anywhere and provides a positive or negative diagnosis in less than 10 minutes with a performance equivalent to gold standard laboratory tests.

“Because this isn’t cartridge-based and you don’t need a testing station, it’s more accessible than a lot of the other products that are coming onto the market, so the opportunity is huge,” said Westendorf.

Eliminate the need for a testing station and you have a test that can diagnose the virus wherever the patient is, instead of bringing the patient to the test. In a pandemic, the simple act of leaving home to get tested can pose its own risks, and even increase the potential for exposure to COVID-19 for yourself and others.

Due to its flexibility, speed and accuracy, the Veros COVID-19 test can be deployed for rapid patient triage within hospitals as well as primary care practices, pharmacies and community centres and even distributed for use by individuals in isolation who suspect they may have COVID-19 


says Harry Lamble, chief executive officer at Sense.

The urgent need for a product like this and the existing work the team had already completed on the Veros device – as well as the efficiencies created through the companies’ original partnership – saved precious time getting this new COVID-19 test ready to deliver. A development process that would normally take two years is on track to be ready in a matter of months.

“This was a solid proof of concept when we saw it in the beginning of March,” said Westendorf. “We will soon get to a point where we’re building molds and designing assembly fixtures, then focus on manufacturing development. We’re overcoming a lot working on a pretty aggressive timeline.”

At its current pace, the Phillips-Medisize team will evaluate project progress in May and begin planning to support Sense with launch of their product. With all that’s been accomplished on such a truncated timeline, there’s confidence this new test will be market-ready in the very near future.

Moving forward, Westendorf, Schladweiler and the entire Phillips-Medisize team are hopeful that everything they’re doing to scale up production in partnership with Sense will lead to even bigger breakthroughs, with potential to benefit millions more. As COVID-19 upends life around the world, they feel the stakes in their own communities.

“It almost brings tears to your eyes to think about how impactful the work that you’re doing is to other people,” added Schladweiler. “People who have families, children, friends, neighbors. It all makes a huge difference.”

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