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A South African company known for its contributions to HIV drug-resistance testing, Hyrax Biosciences, has released an easy-to-use software tool to detect mutations in the genome of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

The Hyrax Biosciences’ Exatype SARS-CoV-2 runs on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and is used worldwide in efforts to track the evolution of the virus as it spreads. Exatype SARS-CoV-2 automates the analysis and interpretation of data, reducing the time spent analysing the data from days or weeks to hours.

When a sample from the lungs of an individual suspected to have COVID-19 arrives in the lab, the DNA of the virus can be extracted from the sample and then sequenced using a DNA sequencing machine. Usually, these machines produce large quantities of messy, complex data, which would usually require painstaking expert analysis. However, Hyrax Biosciences’ Exatype SARS-CoV-2 removes the need for this expert and speeds up the process to get results.

To get results at an efficient pace, Hyrax Biosciences runs its API servers on Amazon EC2. When a customer uploads data, that data is moved directly into an Amazon S3. Following that, Amazon CloudFormation downloads the data and analyses it, while Amazon Aurora database backs up the company’s API on AWS RDS.

SMETechGuru had an exclusive Q&A interview with Dr. Simon Travers, CEO and co-founder of Hyrax Biosciences to tell us about the organisation and their an easy-to-use testing tool

When was Hyrax Biosciences founded and where is based?

  • Hyrax Biosciences was founded in 2015. There are four co-founders Dr. Simon Travers, Dr. Imogen Wright, Dr. Natasha Wood and Baruch Lubinsky. Our primary based is in Cape Town.

How many customers or users have already used/downloaded the tool?

  • Genetic diagnostics are a three step process; we do step 3 (analysing and interpreting the data to output a final result).  Our typical business model involves partnering with companies who do steps 1 and/or 2 to enable them to offer a full sample to report solution to their customers (our end-users).  While we historically supported genetic diagnostics for HIV, we are now a disease agnostic platform which means we can support a broad spectrum of genetic tests ranging from infectious disease to cancer.

Is the tool free? It not, can you briefly explain the pricing?

  • Our tool is not free.  However, our pricing is generally bundled into the cost of our partner’s genetic full test meaning that end-users do not pay us directly.

Where are these users based?

  • Our end-users are primarily pathology laboratories (who purchase testes from our partners) and are based across the globe from the US, central America, Africa and Asia.

How will this tool help combat Covid-19 in Africa and South Africa?

  • Our COVID-19 solution will enable researchers and laboratories to easily analyse and interpret DNA information from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infections and utilise this information towards characterising global diversity (important for vaccine development) and for studying viral transmission. Please see more information here:  https://hyraxbio.com/press-releases/sars-cov-2-product-release/

 How has working with AWS helped you achieve your goals?

  • Our product, Exatype, is a cloud-based solution.  We use AWS for all of our infrastructure ranging from web-hosting through to auto-scaling.  Data security is critical for us and AWS provides for all of our security needs.  AWS enables us to effortlessly scale our product offerings and workloads; something that would not be possible for us to do without AWS.  Without such infrastructure it would not be possible for us to have rapidly deployed our COVID-19 solution.