Fresh Off $50M Funding, Dascena Teams with Juniper on Covid-19 Testing Innovations

Juniper Communities — an early proponent of widespread Covid-19 testing in senior living — is working with a new partner to deploy more data-driven, rapid, reliable and cost-effective tests.

Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper has teamed up with Oakland, California-based Dascena on the effort, the organizations announced Monday. In late April, Dascena announced the closing of a $50 million Series B funding round.

“They’re extremely smart scientists and entrepreneurs with a sense of social responsibility,” Juniper President and CEO Lynne Katzmann told Senior Housing News, speaking of Dascena.

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Access to Covid-19 tests was a major obstacle for senior living providers early in the pandemic, but many providers now cite long wait times on results as the primary testing-related challenge. Currently, test results can take five to seven days, Katzmann said. Such a slow turnaround increases the chances that an individual is exposed to the coronavirus after testing but before the results are received.

Furthermore, the typical nasal swab test is notoriously uncomfortable, and operationally and financially burdensome for providers. To test a senior living resident requires a staff member to administer the test and a physician to write the prescription, and there are labeling and reporting chores that have to be completed after each test, Katzmann noted.

The Dascena partnership is meant to address these pain points.

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By leveraging Dascena’s process and molecular lab, test results should now be available within 24 to 48 hours. The accuracy of the tests also is better, Katzmann said.

Testing should become more efficient, as well, given Dascena’s expertise in using data analytics to identify people who are at higher risk for Covid-19 infection. Dascena’s founder, Ritankar Das, began developing algorithms to help diagnose clinical conditions while pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, and founded Dascena to push forward with these efforts, with a particular focus on sepsis. The company has received four National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants to further the technology and perform clinical trials.

Currently, Dascena uses nasal swab tests for Covid-19, but has managed to bring costs down by about 25% through greater automation, Katzmann said. The next frontier is a cheek-swab test. Juniper is engaged in a validation study on this method.

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Katzmann’s ultimate vision is for a cheek-swab test that could be easily done at home by a team member or resident, then sent in for rapid results. Such a process would dramatically reduce operational complications, further reduce costs, and support more nimble and safe senior living communities.

Known for its innovation, particularly in its approach to integrating wraparound clinical care with the hospitality-forward social model of senior living, Juniper has pushed the envelope in certain aspects of its Covid-19 response. For instance, the provider has utilized and piloted Covid-19 antibody testing, and is among the providers to establish Covid-19 “bubbles” by having staff live on site.

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