HudsonAlpha fighting coronavirus with genomics expertise

The recent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak presents enormous challenges for global health. However, there are innovative projects underway at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology contributing to the global fight against coronavirus. 

The strength of HudsonAlpha lies in the culture of collaboration and a unique structure that encourages entrepreneurship. That strength is currently being demonstrated through the research and development of diagnostic and treatment tools to combat COVID-19. 

“I am in frequent contact with scientists here on the HudsonAlpha campus and we are working to find solutions for COVID-19,” said Rick Myers, PhD, HudsonAlpha president and science director. “We are fortunate to have leaders right here on our campus involved in the fight against this disease.”

Jian Han, M.D., Ph.D., HudsonAlpha faculty investigator, has been working on public health issues for decades. Dr. Han won a Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award for his work during the SARS outbreak, and his team has been finding solutions for H5N1, H1N1, H7N9, Zika virus and now COVID-19. iRepertoire and iCubate are two resident associate companies founded by Dr. Han and located on the campus of HudsonAlpha. Dr. Han was also a co-founder of HudsonAlpha associate company Diatherix Laboratories, now Diatherix-Eurofins.

The most effective way to stop pandemics is with vaccines. However, the pipeline for getting vaccines to market can take years. iRepertoire is developing an antibody-based treatment for COVID-19. An antibody can be used to treat patients with active disease. The immune system is nature’s best doctor, and by understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, Dr. Han’s technology can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities. He believes this approach offers a promising path to producing an effective treatment quickly.

iCubate is a molecular diagnostic company that has developed a fully automated system for the rapid detection of infectious pathogens. The system is enclosed and can be placed in laboratories and hospitals, particularly at the source of an outbreak such as COVID-19. This test also allows a new level of protection for healthcare providers with its closed and disposable cassette for sample preparation. iCubate is currently engaging with FDA to gain regulatory approval for the iC-COVID-19 diagnostic test. This would be iCubate’s third infectious disease detection assay that has been cleared by the FDA.  

Diatherix-Eurofins, a clinical diagnostic testing laboratory, is currently providing testing for COVID-19. Diatherix has just launched a molecular testing panel that not only detects the virus that causes COVID-19, but also five bacterial pathogens associated with respiratory complications in high risk patients. This provides the clinician with additional clinically-relevant information not offered by most other testing approaches. Diatherix’s COVID-19 panel joins a host of other respiratory viral test panels, all of which utilize a  Target Enriched Multiplex PCR (TEM-PCR) approach. Results are typically reported out on the same day as specimen receipt. However, the potential for abnormally high volumes may merit a delay with these results.

Dr. Han continues his work with other HudsonAlpha scientists and with the resident associate companies to combat the COVID-19 crisis. 

Numerous scientists and entrepreneurs across HudsonAlpha’s campus of 16 research laboratories and 45 biotech companies are working in a collaborative effort to contain and minimize the impact of this global pandemic.

HudsonAlpha’s Educational Outreach group continues the important work of informing the public on issues that impact health and well-being. Dr. Neil Lamb, HudsonAlpha’s vice president of Educational Outreach and team are providing accurate, accessible information and guidance about COVID-19 through the Shareable Science blog, which can be viewed on the HudsonAlpha website or by signing up to receive updates by email.

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