With technology it originally used to detect opioids, the Massachusetts-based startup will expand its efforts to give health departments a more accurate picture of the prevalence of the coronavirus in local populations.
The wastewater-testing startup Biobot Analytics has raised another $4.2 million in seed funding while promoting a pro bono program for cities to gather data on COVID-19, according to the company’s April 17 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Launched in 2017 from a research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the company has pulled in $6.7 million in seed fundraising through five rounds to date. The latest round was led by MIT’s The Engine, along with AmFam Institute Impact Fund, Y Combinator and DCVC. According to a news release, the money will go toward growing the company’s operations, funding market expansion and product development.
Initially used for gathering data about opioid use, Biobot analyzes urine and stool samples collected from wastewater to generate population-level insights about human health. The company started a pro bono wastewater-testing program in March to help cities assess the local prevalence of the coronavirus. To city departments or wastewater treatment facilities that fill out an application, Biobot has been shipping sampling kits and instructions at cost, about $120, then asking that they take a couple samples a week and mail them back for analysis.
According to the news release, the company’s opioid-related work with Cary, N.C., gave local officials accurate information that led to effective interventions, reducing overdoses by 40 percent and lowering their burden on the health-care system. Seven cities in Massachusetts are now conducting initial studies with Biobot’s opioid testing kit.
“The team has shown the potential of using our wastewater systems for mitigating the opioid crisis, and now is the time to extend the approach to addressing other important health challenges, from COVID-19 and other viruses to environmental contaminants,” said Ann DeWitt, a general partner of The Engine, in a statement.
Biobot has yet to disclose the extent of its findings related to COVID-19, although the news release said the company will publish COVID-19 data from 100 locations nationwide later this month. Based on an initial review of samples from March 18-25 at a large urban facility in Massachusetts, an academic research paper on April 7, which has not been peer-reviewed, found the prevalence of COVID-19 was “significantly higher than expected based on clinically confirmed cases.”