Ontera Inc, Santa Cruz, Calif, maker of silicon-based nanopore diagnostics, has received a $982,593 contract from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that invests in research and innovative technologies to strengthen national security. The funding will support Ontera’s development of a genotyping test to enable fast and accurate diagnosis of individuals infected with Zika virus.


Trevor Morin, PhD, Ontera.

There is a critical need for Zika diagnostics to guide front-line clinicians with point-of-care data about infection after possible exposure and the window of susceptibility to birth defects. Such testing is especially needed in resource-poor countries and for tracking epidemic transmission points to guard against a pandemic spread.

Experts recognize that detecting the viral nucleic acid and specific viral variants is the most sensitive and specific method for establishing Zika infection and identifying a particular strain of the virus. Ontera’s platform enables field-deployable molecular confirmatory diagnostics testing.

“By providing nucleic acid testing in the field, as opposed to lateral-flow triage tests that only detect antibody proteins, Ontera abrogates the need for sending samples to a lab for confirmatory testing. This aids disease management by eliminating a costly and time-consuming step,” says Trevor Morin, PhD, chief scientific officer at Ontera. “Importantly, by also providing genotyping information, we can quickly assess the virulence of the pathogen, and even geographically track strains to determine country or region of origin, thereby allowing efficient disease containment.”


Murielle Thinard-McLane, MBA, Ontera.

Ontera’s platform is based on silicon-nanopore, chip-based sensors and, unlike other molecular diagnostics platforms, it does not require a laboratory. The technology is portable and durable enough to work in the field—even in extreme environments—with minimal hands-on time or training required.

Ontera’s first Zika test will include genotyping information to identify people infected with a Zika gene variant associated with microcephaly, something that is not possible with protein-based tests. Receiving results in minutes at the point of testing will provide better control of localized outbreaks.

“Rapid infectious disease detection and monitoring are key applications for our technology platform, and we are delighted to receive this significant investment from IARPA to bring a portable test for Zika virus management to the global health community,” says Murielle Thinard-McLane, MBA, CEO of Ontera. “The ability to widely deploy our platform in remote settings will expand access to state-of-the-art molecular diagnostics for optimal control of outbreaks.”

For further information, visit Ontera.