CNBC Disruptor 50

32. Biobot Analytics

Founders: Mariana Matus (CEO), Newsha Ghaeli
Launched: 2017
Headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Funding:
$27 million
Valuation: $120 million
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence, deep neural networks/deep learning, machine learning
Industry:
Biotech
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0

Persephone Kavallines

Amid the pandemic you might have seen news clips of sewage spewing out of pipes, part of testing for traces of the coronavirus.

The company behind the technology is Biobot Analytics, a female-founded start-up spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Biobot gained traction during the pandemic through its data analysis and monitoring of wastewater that can predict surges in the virus.

The concept of testing sewage (full of urine and stool samples) looks to provide an efficient and scalable way to monitor infection and signal an outbreak before in-person tests can be done. The approach comes as clinical testing of individuals is no longer seen as practical long-term while risks remain.

Spun out of a 2017 MIT research project by computational biologist and PhD candidate Mariana Matus and architect and research fellow Newsha Ghaeli, their combined interests in environmental technology and urban studies led to their Cambridge-based start-up.

Initially focused on detection of opioid substances in wastewater, Biobot accelerated through the Y Combinator program in San Francisco, and received funding of $4.2 million in 2020 from several investors including DCVC, the MIT-founded The Engine, and others. It has since completed another round of new funding, a $20 million round in October 2021 led by Thursday Ventures and joined by existing investors, as well as strategic backers including Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genomics company 23andMe.

The company was selected in May 2021 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement a 12-week national testing and surveillance program to find Covid-19 hotspots, representing 100 million people in communities nationwide. Biobot's objective for the government-funded project was to identify levels of the virus, and provide data and analytics to government and hospitals for early detection to proactively prevent the spread of the disease.

Furthering its diagnostics capabilities, the company also has worked on detection analysis of Covid-19 variants in wastewater. It began pilot tests in late 2021 to track the presence of the influenza virus, an opportune time since experts were warning of a particularly bad flu season.

Most recently, Biobot was selected by the CDC in May to expand its National Wastewater Surveillance System to collect and analyze samples from 500 communities to track Covid-19 levels.

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