Carlsbad Biotech Companies Continue To Innovate, Combat Deadly Diseases

September 30, 2022

It is no secret that companies around the globe moved swiftly to take on COVID-19 with breakthrough innovations, like tracking,  testing, and treating, proving that biotechnology and technology can pivot to respond to the world’s needs. Carlsbad businesses were among the companies that quickly answered the call and helped the global response to the pandemic. 

Companies such as Active Motif and Thermo Fisher Scientific studied COVID-19 to treat and prevent the disease, while companies like Copan Diagnostics, GenMark Diagnostics and Quidel Corporation ramped up production amid the pandemic to meet the growing demand to test more people. Now, these companies continue to fight COVID-19 and other deadly diseases today. Here’s an update on the latest developments:

Thermo Fisher Scientific employees at work. Courtesy photo 

Active Motif

Active Motif, a leader in supplying life science researchers’ molecular tools for studying epigenetics, has worked to develop new tools to test for and treat the disease since the novel coronavirus outbreak started in China.

The company was part of a collaboration that led to the first cloning, expression and characterization of recombinant human antibodies from some of the first patients that recovered from the disease. The antibodies that were generated using the company’s proprietary AbEpic platform helped researchers around the world study COVID-19.

At the start of 2022, Active Motif acquired Amaryllis Nucleics, a start-up company focused on proprietary RNA sequencing methods.

Amaryllis Nucleics provided Active Motif with a streamlined, low-cost library preparation method to perform high-efficiency RNA sequencing using the company’s intellectual property associated with 3′-Digital Gene Expression. According to Active Motif, the technology is twice as fast from RNA to library prep compared to other methods, is less expensive, and shows greater than 99% strand-specificity.

Copan Diagnostics

Copan Diagnostics, part of the international Copan Group, is a market leader for the sample collection and transport kits that play a crucial role in COVID-19 testing.

Copan was considered one of the leading suppliers of the kits in the U.S. and around the world prior to the pandemic. The company invented a special swab in 2003 that became a key element in hundreds of millions of COVID-19 PCR tests. The same swab products used to test for influenza or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) were used to test for COVID-19.

As the pandemic began to impact the country in early 2020, Copan ramped up its production of test kits with support from a $10 million grant from Apple. The company increased its capacity from producing several thousand test kits per week in the U.S. to more than half a million kits per week.

Employee at Copan Diagnostics. Courtesy photo

To reach 1 million kits per week, Copan expanded its U.S. operations in summer 2020 from Murrieta to Carlsbad, where the company occupies a 38,000-square-foot building. Copan manufactured 415 million swabs in 2020, more than double the amount in 2019. The company now has the capacity to produce 1 billion a year.

In 2021, Copan revised its business model to better meet the demands of its customers. In addition to offering its products through distribution partners, the company began offering direct sales, which helped serve customers faster, especially as COVID-19 cases surged.

Today, Copan remains a key player in the medical swab market, which is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.64% during the forecast period 2022-27.

​​COPAN expects to continue to expand by producing kits for other uses such as tests for sexually transmitted infections.

GenMark Diagnostics

GenMark Diagnostics, a leading provider of multiplex molecular diagnostic tests, quickly answered the call to test more people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A month prior to the first reported U.S. deaths in February 2022, the company had already designed tests for clinical samples. GenMark later received FDA Emergency Use Authorization to distribute its rapid PCR-based COVID-19 test.

The company designed and manufactured tests and eventually incorporated the COVID-19 assay into their respiratory pathogen panel.

In May 2021, Roche, the world’s largest biotech company, acquired GenMark for $1.8 billion, infusing capital and establishing Roche’s presence in Carlsbad.

GenMark’s products complement Roche’s portfolio of COVID-19 diagnostic solutions, with Roche gaining access to GenMark’s respiratory pathogen panel. The respiratory pathogen panel identifies the most common viral and bacterial organisms associated with upper respiratory infection, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Through Roche’s worldwide network of consumers, GenMark has broadened the commercialization of its products.

Quidel Corporation

Quidel Corporation, a subsidiary of QuidelOrtho Corporation and a provider of rapid diagnostic testing solutions, cellular-based virology assays and molecular diagnostic systems, was the first company to receive FDA Emergency Use Authorization for a rapid point-of-care antigen test for COVID-19.

Quidel QuickVue at-home nasal antigen test kit. Courtesy photo 

The company then created the QuickVue SARS Antigen test, an affordable and convenient at-home nasal antigen test kit. In December 2020, Quidel received clearance to market the test.

In February 2021, Quidel signed a lease to build out a new manufacturing facility in Carlsbad to expand its manufacturing capacity for tests. The 128,000-square-foot facility opened in November 2021.

The facility produces the company’s QuickVue line of products and is Quidel’s highest-volume production plant in the world. At the facility, the company aims to make more than 600 million QuickVue tests per year for the detection and diagnosis of COVID-19 infections.

Also in fall 2021, Quidel secured a 12-month contract worth an expected $284 million to supply up to 51.2 million QuickVue antigen tests to the federal government.

In May 2022, Quidel Corporation and Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Holdings were combined to create QuidelOrtho, a leading in vitro diagnostics company. Headquartered in San Diego, the new company generated more than $3.5 billion in combined revenues in 2021.

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science, also has a prominent presence in Carlsbad.

In July 2021, the company opened a cGMP plasmid DNA manufacturing facility in the city to make biological components for vaccines like the ones developed to fight COVID-19. The 67,000-square-foot facility, located on the company’s existing Carlsbad campus, helps meet the rapidly growing demand for plasmid DNA-based therapies and vital mRNA-based vaccines.

In other health news, Thermo Fisher Scientific launched a sequencing-based assay for research in myeloid measurable residual disease in August 2022. 

The Ion Torrent Oncomine Myeloid MRD Assays provide a comprehensive and highly sensitive MRD assessment from blood and bone marrow samples. The Myeloid MRD Assay has been designed to enable simultaneous testing and identification of more than 90% of common acute myeloid leukemia mutations and fusions, which will help guide the future of clinical applications, standards and drug development.

Carlsbad has emerged as a hotspot for innovation for those in the life sciences industry. Today, the city has more than 130 life science companies, which is 5.51 times higher than the national average.

Thanks to thriving companies like these, the industry in Carlsbad continues to play a pivotal role in combating COVID-19 and other diseases in the U.S. and around the world.