Amazon.com Inc. has hired several employees of a Covid-19 testing startup as part of efforts to curb outbreaks among its workers.
Caspr Biotech’s cofounders, Chief Executive Officer Franco Goytia and Chief Strategy Officer Carla Gimenez, joined Amazon in December, according to a person familiar with the situation. The pair, along with several other startup employees, are working on a project codenamed Artemis. It’s unclear whether Amazon acquired Caspr Biotech.
In a shareholder letter in April, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said the company had begun building a lab to test employees for Covid-19.
At about the same time, in Sunnyvale, California, the headquarters of Amazon’s Lab126 hardware group, the company was setting up a prototype lab, and seeking microbiologists and researchers, as well as a lawyer to oversee the legal aspects of the laboratory initiative.
“We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe,” Bezos wrote. “But we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn.”
Since then, Amazon hired dozens of lab technicians to staff laboratories in Hebron, Kentucky, near an Amazon air cargo hub, and Manchester, England. The company has also shipped tests conducted at its facilities to third-party labs, including the University of Washington. Amazon said this month it was testing about 700 workers an hour.
Amazon declined to comment on Caspr Biotech and the hiring of its employees. Goytia and Gimenez didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Read more: Amazon Unleashes Its Inner Scientist to Combat the Coronavirus
In a video posted to YouTube featuring Goytia in April, Caspr Biotech said it aimed to develop “cheap and rapid” tests that generate results in one hour. He said the startup was piloting tests with health officials around the world, as well as private companies and lab networks.
“We’re still some time out from having our solution fully manufactured and developed,” Goytia said.
In an interview with the San Francisco Business Times last May, Goytia said he aimed to have tests ready for use in the second half of 2020. Goytia and Gimenez moved much of their staff from Argentina to San Francisco, with about 15 of the startup’s 25 employees living in one home together in Alamo Square, according to the report.
Goytia told the newspaper that the company was ramping up rapidly to respond to the pandemic. “We are working day and night to advance with our objective,” he told the Business Times. “People are working until 4 a.m. in the lab on experiments, working more than 12 hours a day.”
Founded in 2018, Caspr Biotech is tiny, having raised just $550,000, according to PitchBook, which says its valuation as of 2019 was about $2.5 million.
— With assistance by Matt Day