Laboratories Boost Capacity to Support Widespread Testing: August 2020 News

In our previous recap of industry news, we looked at the exciting partnerships and collaborations driving change, C-Suite and Board additions, and mergers and acquisitions. The Molecular Diagnostic Industry continues to innovate and grow, with laboratories and other industry partners working together to expedite COVID-19 testing and advance the community’s knowledge of the coronavirus. At the same time, clinical labs have pressed forward at an accelerated pace, introducing streamlined blood tests for identifying tumors, new online consumer-facing portals for ordering genetic testing, and new platforms for sharing data. In this post, we look at a few striking examples.

COVID-19-Related Innovations

Adaptive Biotechnologies and Microsoft have launched the ImmuneCODE database to share population-wide COVID-19 immune response data generated from patient blood samples. They are making the information freely available to researchers, public health officials, and organizations to help global efforts to develop diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. Sequencing capabilities combined with machine learning will help researchers map the T-cell response, which will provide a clearer picture of the severity of the illness in patients. It’ll also help researchers figure out how long people might have immunity and the potential efficacy of vaccines currently being developed. As well as providing a valuable tool in the fight against the current pandemic, this new methodology could change the way we study future viruses too.

Widespread testing is a key piece of the pandemic puzzle, and many laboratories have stepped up to increase capacity. The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), for example, has partnered with the State of Connecticut to provide widescale COVID-19 testing in Connecticut, boosting numbers from 500 to 20,000 tests a day, and with 24-hour turnaround time. The lab is collaborating with the Connecticut Department of Public Health as well as more than 30 hospitals and healthcare facilities across the state. Testing is particularly critical for at-risk groups, such as the residents of long-term care and nursing homes, and first-responders. It’s interesting to note that the lab partly attributes its ability to meet the expanded testing to its partnership with UConn Health and the integration of electronic health records from other institutions.

Over the past several months, it’s become clear that children respond to the COVID-19 virus differently than adults—for example, children have been reported to have symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease. To understand this better, the New York State Department of Health has partnered with the New York Genome Center (NYGC) and Rockefeller University on a genome study of children affected by the disease. Children with these symptoms in New York and surrounding areas will be tested to see if they “share rare genetic variants in common that affect their response to the virus.” The research also involves members of the COVID-19 Genomics Research Network, a network organized by the NYGC to pool efforts and resources.

Also newsworthy, Illumina received the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization for a sequencing-based COVID-19 diagnostic test. The Illumina COVIDSeq™ test uses upper respiratory specimens and delivers results within 24 hours. Illumina has also made its software toolkit available free of charge to help researchers “detect and identify the SARS-CoV-2 viral sequence in their samples and contribute their findings to critical public databases.”

Other Exciting News

With all the news about how companies are increasing COVID-19 testing and making new discoveries through sequencing, it’s easy to miss other exciting announcements. For example, a Canadian consortium, led by Canexia Health and including Semaphore Solutions, has introduced an initiative for cancer patients to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19 and to increase health system capacity. Rather than visiting a hospital for a surgical biopsy, patients with recurrent or metastatic lung, breast, or colon cancer will be able to get a simple blood draw. The digital liquid biopsy uses software and machine learning to identify the tumor and identify the most effective treatment for their cancer.

Also in Canada, San Francisco-based Invitae is making it easier for consumers to access medical genetic tests. The company has expanded its online ordering service so that consumers can now access tests recommended in early pregnancy or for cancer risk assessments. Patients can order and complete the tests from home, and then share the final report with their healthcare provider. This is a much quicker and more accessible process for patients at a time when it can be difficult to get a timely in-person appointment.

In other news, Guardant Health has launched a clinical genomic platform—GuardantINFORM™—to accelerate precision oncology drug development. Designed to aid in targeted drug development, clinical trial optimization, and post-marketing studies, the platform includes a dataset of de-identified clinical and genomic data. The information has been collected from more than 100,000 liquid biopsy tests conducted throughout treatment for solid tumor cancers such as non-small-cell lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of platforms like this for enabling collaboration and innovation in treating cancer.

Extensible and scalable software is a vital foundation of all of these innovations. NGS Clinical Diagnostic labs that have already addressed the complex challenges involved in maintaining their software systems are in a better position to respond rapidly at all times. We’ve always believed that having the right software infrastructure is important for agility—but the current pandemic is showing us just how crucial it is.

If you want to talk about how software can help you grow your lab, contact us today.