Use CARES Act Funds To Help Develop Easy Testing - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Bob McDermott

Rep. Bob McDermott represents House District 40 -- Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry and Iroquois Point.

Gene Ward


Most people dream of coming to Hawaii to experience its overwhelming natural beauty and the hidden treasures of the ocean. Recently, we became aware of just such a hidden treasure, and we want the whole state to know about it.

You won’t need a snorkel, scuba tank, or even hiking shoes to get to it. All you have to do is go to 828 Fort Street Mall in Honolulu. That is the address where you can find a small and humble company called Oceanit.

Oceanit was founded in 1985. Its doctors, scientists, and engineers are largely born and raised locals. They are truly creating the future right here, right now, in downtown Honolulu.

The company was brought to our attention by their CEO Dr. Patrick Sullivan — a University of Hawaii graduate. Dr. Sullivan approached us because his team has developed a COVID-19 test, which they believe can help open the state back up for business.

Medical personnel assist with surge COVID-19 testing at Waialae Iki Park. September 9, 2020
Medical personnel assist with surge COVID-19 testing at Waialae Iki Park Sept. 9. Oceanit has developed a test that is far less invasive and can produce results faster. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

In recent testimony before the senate special committee on COVID-19, Dr. Sullivan said they have discovered people with the virus are most infectious the first five days after exposure. Its presence rapidly decreases after that, which makes a person less likely to spread the sickness.

Imagine if every traveler took one of these tests for the first five days after arrival, then once a week, and then not at all.

Like A Pregnancy Test

Oceanit’s test is far less invasive and time consuming than others and no lab is required. People simply spit in a tube and wait ten minutes for the results to appear — reminiscent of a home pregnancy test.

Ideally, Dr. Sullivan says his team is trying to get the test, formally known as Assure-19, approved for over the counter sales and, depending on the volume, the price is estimated to be from $5 to $20. Because the company is part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program through the National Institute of Health, FDA approval is expected much faster than normal.

This technology provides a critical piece to a plan we released in May — Making Hawaii Safe for Travel. Dr. Sullivan even testified that use of this test opens up the possibility of creating bubbles that are completely COVID-19 free. After a period of using Oceanit’s tests in conjunction with proper quarantine of those who are positive, Hawaii can again be a safe place for travel.

The story behind the development of this test sounds like science fiction. Oceanit has been working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for years. Their work has focused on developing artificial intelligence that can create medicines to target cancer and HIV. Because HIV is a virus, they thought maybe they could use the same research to target COVID-19, and it worked.

Dr. Sullivan tried to explain the process by comparing it to language stating their AI program looks at DNA like we look at language. When we start out, we learn there are 26 letters. Then we learn to pair those letters together to make words, and eventually, those words make complex sentences.

The outcome is an infinite combination of words that we use to express every facet of our physical world, thoughts, and emotions — all from 26 letters.

Similarly, Oceanit’s program has learned to recognize what different combinations of molecules do when they interact with COVID-19. This process allows them to know that certain molecules will change color on a plastic stick if the virus is present for example. Armed with this information, they have used 3D printing to make plastic sticks with these known molecules embedded in them to create the saliva test.

Oceanit has brought this technology an incredible distance. However, nothing is free. If it is to make the leap from the lab to the masses, they need financial help.

Dr. Sullivan needs about $10 million to produce 400,000 tests. This will provide Oceanit with all the costs to set up a manufacturing facility here in Hawaii. This will result in the creation of much-needed jobs. We believe that Governor Ige and the state should provide the funds from CARES Act money.

In his testimony before the special committee, Dr. Sullivan explained why this is an example of prudent government spending. Usually, the lab would get money from venture capitalists. However, because there will likely be a drastic reduction in demand for tests once a vaccine is brought to market, there won’t be immense profits.

Gov. Ige should provide CARES Act money to Oceanit.

There is a long-term benefit for the state’s investment, however. A comparison was made between Hawaii and San Diego a few decades ago. San Diego had tourism and the military. Then the city invested heavily to bring bio-tech companies in and now has a thriving and diverse economic landscape. Investing in Oceanit now will pay huge dividends in starting to diversify our local economy.

Making this investment will allow us to recover from the pandemic. It will be money well spent on Hawaii’s future and economic diversity. It will be one of the best investments of public money the state has made in recent memory. Please contact your local elected officials and ask them to notify the governor of their support for this investment.

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About the Authors

Bob McDermott

Rep. Bob McDermott represents House District 40 -- Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry and Iroquois Point.

Gene Ward


Latest Comments (0)

I don't think the $10M should come from the State, it has obvious issues to resolve and a dead economy without a real viable solution.  With such large scale implications, the Fed should fund it.Or the State could front some of the start up costs while they navigate the Fed bureaucratic tape.OR take it from Caldwell's $300M.  Having the facility here it would be going to benefit Hawaii and the immediate County of Honolulu.  Money much better spent than on ATV's.

surferx808 · 1 year ago

The clinical trials of Oceanit’s saliva test began about a month ago which is being funded by the National Institute of Health. As reported after collecting data in two trials, Oceanit will apply for FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

RoyK · 1 year ago

If this technology is so promising, Oceanit should have no problem whatsoever getting $10 million in capital through: bank debt, venture capital, individual equity investors, or joint venture with a big pharmaceutical or biotech company. That is a tiny investment in the scale of things. We should question why, rather than pursuing any of those other options, their best path is to lobby the state for CARES Act money.Anyone with a background in business would view this with suspicion.It is great for the state to use CARES money for broad testing to help reopen our schools and economy. But they should be investing it in proven, scalable, FDA-approved technology. Had they done that months ago, we might have avoided billions in economic damage and untold human cost.

Concerned_Citizen · 1 year ago

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