Newburyport man's company developing virus test

COURTESY PHOTO.Robb Osinski, CEO and chairman of Bambu Global

NEWBURYPORT — A local man’s company is developing an at-home coronavirus test kit that he hopes could provide a quick and reliable way to detect the virus and ultimately save lives during the global pandemic.

The BlueAware DX diagnostic development program is being designed by Lowell-based Bambu Global, and aims to be a cost-effective, simple and easy-to-use test kit. If the company succeeds, the product would deliver highly accurate results in minutes, and would not need to be administered by a healthcare provider, eliminating the concern and time-consuming processes of a laboratory test.

The test procedure would require a person to deposit a saliva into a vial. If the sample tests positive, the company’s color change solution will begin to change color in seconds, according to Robb Osinski, CEO and chairman, who lives on Merrimac Street.

Osinski founded Bambu Global in 2001. As he explained, many of the company’s scientists previously worked for Polaroid, where they created innovative functional dyes. Last fall, Osinski said, the company began creating products that would change color in the presence of “superbugs” or bacteria in collaboration with one of the world’s largest anti-microbial soap companies to create an “instant detector” for the presence of MRSA.

But things changed more recently for Bambu Global’s plans when concerns about the spread of the coronavirus skyrocketed at the end of 2019, so the company quickly pivoted to focus on detecting viruses, Osinski said.

“Even though we’re experts in color change, it never occurred to us to detect this problem because we were focused on other areas, but we happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Since then, Bambu Global has worked on a new test kit that Osinski said would be much different than other available tests, which make detections based on a substance’s DNA and RNA.

“These things, when they replicate, they secrete a set of enzymes we can detect, so we engineer the molecules to change their physical state when they’re in the presence of something, and in this case, it’s the enzymes,” said Osinski. “It’s like a lock and key of sorts.”

Osinski said the company has already begun the process of obtaining emergency approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration and is working to get funding to mass-produce the tests. If Bambu Global secures enough money, Osinski said the product could be in the hands of the public “in just a few weeks.”

“We just feel like having a detection kit that looks like a strip you can put on your tongue and know whether or not you have a sickness that needs to be addressed at a higher level will be helpful during this term of self-isolation or self-quarantine and social distancing,” said Osinski.

If all goes as planned, Osinski said he believes the BlueAware DX diagnostic program could provide a better solution not only for testing for COVID-19, but for other viruses that could emerge.

“The broader vision is that as soon as someone — most likely the CDC — identifies the characteristics of a particular outbreak, and we know those byproducts... we can immediately engineer the molecules to create that color change and be responsive to the next coronaviruses. And we even think we can trigger on various flu symptoms, and that’s our plan,” said Osinski. “We’re not looking at this as a one time thing.”

Noting the overall lack of tests for coronavirus, and that most of those available take about three hours to show results, Osinski said he hopes his company’s product will make a serious change to the way that coronavirus and other viruses are handled.

“If we can change that and make it more readily available, more abundant and quicker, we’ll save significant lives, because basically you’re getting to the heart of it very quickly and reducing the spread,” he said.

For more information on Bambu Global, visit bambuglobal.com.

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