HIV self-testing startup pivots to COVID-19 solution, and ploughs ahead with $30 million IPO plans

self-testing COVID-19 coronavirus

Atomo Diagnostics founder and chief John Kelly. Source supplied.

We know by now we’re in the midst of a health crisis and an economic one too, but there’s one startup that’s not only ramping up its operations, but also ploughing ahead with its ASX listing, planned for next month.

Founded in 2010, Atomo is a rapid blood-testing startup, currently in the market for the fast detection of HIV.

So far, the business has been funded by founder John Kelly, with investment from high-net-worth individuals and via friends and family rounds. Kelly has also secured grant funding for the product, including from The Global Health Investment Fund, backed by Bill Gates.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis deepens, Atomo is repurposing its technology to work on self-testing kits for COVID-19. At the same time, it’s moving forward with a planned IPO, in a bid to raise $30 million, and list on the ASX as soon as mid-April.

Over the past few weeks, as the extent of the crisis has become clear, things have gone wild for the business.

“We have a track record of delivering self-testing for infectious diseases to market,” Kelly says.

“Off the back of that, we’ve had a number of quite urgent inbound enquiries from different diagnostic companies, globally, that had developed their rapid blood-based test for COVID-19.”

Companies working on a test are looking for the tech to distribute them quickly, he explains, and for something easier for professionals to use.

“We’ve got active discussions.”

Potential partners have received samples and are starting technical evaluations, he adds.

He hopes testing will now be completed in “a matter of weeks”.

Then, the team can crack on with a clinical study, and with conversations with national regulators.

“The urgency of getting these types of products to market for COVID-19 is driving the timeline,” Kelly explains.

Regulators have emergency approval pathways for fast-tracking products, and companies themselves are very focused on getting things done as quickly as possible.

“It’s much more compressed than normal.”

But, Kelly believes getting a test like his into the market could make a significant difference to the current health crisis.

“We don’t know the answer, because nobody has ever tried to commercialise a self-test for these types of pandemic applications,” he says.

But, in theory, this is the perfect solution for a situation like this.

“People want to test, but not necessarily expose themselves or others to risk or infection.”

It also reduces risk to healthcare workers, “because there are less people coming for testing”, he notes.

“On its own, it’s not the answer, but I think it could be a valuable tool to help with the testing in the community.”

Float hopes

With all the economic turmoil, this is arguably not the best time to take a company public. But, Kelly started the process back in November, and it had been going well.

“We had a very strong reaction from the investor community based on our HIV business, and our plans to roll out in different applications, including in other consumer health opportunities,” he says.

“COVID-19 has impacted the capital markets very materially, and that has had some impact on investor appetite.”

But, because of the space Atomo operates in, interest has remained robust.

“These are the kinds of things our technology was built to deal with,” he adds.

“The investor support is still strong, and we’re still hopeful we can get the IPO done in the next month.”

In fact, that cash injection is more important now than it has ever been.

Already, the business was going to use the boost to ramp up its production capacity.

“That’s now been accelerated,” he says.

“COVID-19 demands on top of our existing forecasts … we’re trying to accelerate … and obviously the funds will allow us to do that in an efficient and timely manner.”

Now, it’s not a case of making profit, he says. It’s about getting a diagnosis tool into the hands of Aussies as soon as possible, and then making it available worldwide.

“It’s obviously not ideal, timing-wise, but it is what it is, and we’re just trying to keep the IPO on track and deliver our COVID-19 test to market as soon as we can,” Kelly says.

“The fact that we’re a test company has made it possible.”

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