Clear Labs, a biotech company that provides automated safety technologies to food manufacturers, has raised $18 million in a round of funding from a raft of high-profile investors, including Alphabet’s GV, private equity firm Redmile Group, Menlo Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.

The Menlo Park, California-based company said it would use this cash injection to not only continue commercializing its product in the food safety sector but to also reappropriate its “next-generation sequencing” technology for the clinical market — particularly for COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

Founded in 2014, Clear Labs offers software that analyzes the molecular makeup of food to help brands ensure the quality of their products and adhere to food safety standards, including mitigating contamination and other risks and proving products are GMO-free. Automation is a central facet of its proposition, including sample barcoding and robotic pipetting, which minimizes the need for manual handling and reduces the risk of human error.

Above: Clear Labs: Robotic Pippetting

While Clear Labs is continuing to invest in this core business, it’s also looking to help address the global need for COVID-19 testing technology. Clear Labs CEO Sasan Amini said the company will now offer its entire platform, including hardware and cloud-based bioinformatics, to clinical laboratories, academic research institutions, and hospitals to expand their testing capacity and enable “a more accurate diagnostic test result.”

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“With COVID, we realized that what we created for food safety had given us a platform that’s easy to use, cost-effective, and leverages DNA sequencing to make the existing standard obsolete,” he told VentureBeat. “It could just as easily be extended into the clinical market, and COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to accelerate our focus within the space.”

Among the tech’s key selling points is its automation, which reduces the need to have specialized operators on-hand at all times.

“The hardware is an integrated system that takes care of sample prep, library prep, and sequencing, managing all liquid handling in the process,” Amini continued. “This eliminates any manual intervention needed by lab operators — reducing cost and dramatically decreasing error rate — and upfront work is as simple as existing workflows.”

Clear Labs had previously raised around $45 million, and its latest cash injection is perhaps evidence of the urgent need to increase COVID-19 testing capacity, which most experts consider to be a critical tactic in curbing the pandemic. Just a few weeks back, LetsGetChecked locked down $71 million in fresh funding to bring at-home coronavirus test kits to market.

However, while a shortage of test kits is one of the key issues facing the U.S. and other countries, many of the current screening practices culminate in high false-negative rates. And testing for asymptomatic patients is also limited, which can make it hard for health care professionals to fully grasp how the virus spreads. Clear Labs’ genomics-based test promises to deliver higher accuracy while keeping up with the evolution of the virus as it mutates.

The company said it’s already working with “leading” hospitals, universities, and labs on deploying the test, and it expects to receive Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the coming days.

“The power of the platform is that it can be quickly deployed — it doesn’t take roomfuls of equipment or extensive training to get up and running,” Amini added.

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