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Putting Pathogen Detection in the Palm of Your Hand


In Profile

Name: Innovative Biosensors Inc.

Location: College Park

Big idea: Develops and manufactures rapid diagnostic tests to detect hazardous materials and harmful substances for food testing, animal health, biodefense and drug development.

Founded: October 2003. The company obtained an exclusive licensing agreement for the Canary biosensor technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.

Web site: www.innovativebiosensors.comWho's in charge: Joe Hernandez, founder and chief executive; Bart Selby, vice president of operations; Lisa Ryner, director of assay development.

Funding: In January, the company received more than $162,000 from the Maryland Industrial Partnership Program and the Maryland Technology Development Corp.'s technology transfer fund.

Employees: Six

Partnership: In January, the company entered into a development and research agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases for development of a SARS test using the company's technology.

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By Raymund Flandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page E05

Someday, Joe Hernandez says, doctors will be able to carry a small device in the emergency room to detect infectious agents instantly, eliminating the need for elaborate and time-consuming lab tests.

Innovative Biosensors Inc., of College Park, has set out to develop and market such a device, using biosensors that are drawn from the human immune system, then manipulated to detect certain types of bacteria, viruses and proteins. Hernandez, the company's founder and chief executive, said the technology will be able to find traces of pathogens such as anthrax or E. coli, depending on the reagent inserted in the device, which will resemble a handheld computer.

He said it will be more accurate than technology available now, especially in spotting respiratory viruses and contagious bacteria.

Among advances so far, Innovative Biosensors has engineered a cell carrying a bioluminescent protein that emits light when a specific pathogen is targeted. "It glows, much like a jellyfish underwater" or a firefly, Hernandez said.

The Cuban-born son of a dissident imprisoned by Fidel Castro's regime, Hernandez, 31, came to the United States at age 6. He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and graduate degrees in molecular genetics and business administration.

Hernandez started his career at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. in sales and marketing. He was recruited by a company in Silicon Valley then called Affymetrix Inc., which worked on putting human genome data on a computer chip. Digene Corp. of Gaithersburg, which develops tests for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections, hired him to manage its life sciences and new technology program. Seeking more control of his career, he started Innovative Biosensors in October 2003.

Hernandez negotiated a licensing agreement from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had developed the biosensor technology. The technology had its genesis with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Department's research and development arm.

Innovative Biosensors intends to launch a commercial product for the food-testing industry by the end of the year, Hernandez said. But he said use of the device in health care will be a lengthier process, requiring clinical testing and approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Home

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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