Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Institute for Protein Design Summer Entrepreneurial Intern (COVID-19)

Faculty PI Name:

David Baker, Ph.D.

Project or Start-Up Company Name:

De novo Designed LOCKR Biosensor for Rapid At Home Measurement of Antibodies that Neutralize SARS-CoV-2 and Prevent Severe COVID-19

Lab/Project Website:

Work Location:

Virtual remote; If wet labs open after COVID-19 then J-Wing Health Sciences Building and NanoEngineering and Sciences Building

Work Hours (include times of recurring group meetings, special events, etc.):

Regular Work Week

Overall Program Goal:

Evaluation of commercial opportunities for de novo designed Latching Orthogonal Cage–Key pRotein (LOCKR) switches that enable the sensitive and accurate “all in solution” chemiluminescent detection of various protein analytes.  Specifically this project will focus on  LOCKR Biosensors for rapid at home measurement of antibodies that neutralize SARS-CoV-2 and prevent severe COVID-19.

Intern Project Description and Responsibilities:

The Baker lab members have used de novo computational protein design to develop a new biosensor technology for assessing COVID-19 vaccine responses with three substantial advantages over the current state of the art for point of care (at home) diagnostic tests of antibody responses–lateral flow assays with immobilized antigen.  First, our sensor is able to accurately quantify the magnitude of the antibody response, rather than providing just a simple yes/no answer.  Second, our sensor distinguishes between neutralizing antibodies which bind near the ACE-2 (cellular receptor for the virus to enter cells) binding site of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the Spike protein and non-neutralizing antibodies which bind elsewhere in the receptor binding domain.  Third, our sensor system enables evaluation of the extent to which neutralizing antibodies present in a sample are able to also neutralize escape mutant variants of the virus, for example E484K.  With these three advantages, we anticipate a very high global demand for such a sensor as an increasing fraction of the population is vaccinated; many if not most vaccinated people will want to test their responses at multiple different times.  The readout from the test will utilize a cell phone, so the (suitably anonymized) results can also be collected at central public health agencies to guide policy making, so there may be considerable  interest from governments and health organizations in addition to individuals.

Working virtually, an intern is needed to support business case assessment for our novel serological LOCKR Diagnostic test for protective antibodies that stop COVID-19.  If wet lab activities are allowed, the intern will support in planning and execution of benchmark assays with human serum from ongoing vaccination campaigns.  If the COVID-19 pandemic allows, an intern could contribute to both a business case analysis and wet lab work if desired.


Students should have completed basic biochemistry, organic chemistry, and ideally statistics.  Alternatively, students in business or engineering majors that have performed market research analyses in technical industries either in class or outside would also be prioritized. If lab work is desired, the candidate must have prior lab experience preparing buffers and protein purification is needed for the intern to be qualified for lab work.

Level of Independence:

This position will require a reasonably high level of independence.

Learning Opportunities:

The intern will learn how to develop a valuation model and target product profile for a drug candidate.  If the intern decides to work in the lab, then there will be an opportunity to become familiar with GLP compliance.