Carlsbad Life Sciences Companies Play Crucial Role in COVID-19 Testing

May 5, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to change our way of life in nearly every way around the world, only one thing is certain: Carlsbad companies are supporting critical efforts to test more people.

Carlsbad’s life sciences industry has answered the call — proving to be crucial in the fight against the disease. A month prior to the first reported U.S. death in February, Carlsbad’s GenMark Diagnostics had already designed tests for clinical samples. Meanwhile, Argonaut Manufacturing Services has provided manufacturing support for testing companies, as well as services needed to support clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines. 

Two employees run an experiment inside GenMark's Carlsbad office
Employees at GenMark Diagnostics. Courtesy photo

Scott Mendel, interim CEO for GenMark Diagnostics, said the company’s talented team has taken on various roles in the fight against COVID-19. From designing and manufacturing crucial tests earlier this year to transitioning to incorporating the COVID-19 assay into their respiratory pathogen panel, which will prove to be imperative during the next flu season. 

“As we move into next flu season, the ability to screen for all these viruses at the same time will be critical to controlling future transmission of SARS-CoV-2 which is one of the cornerstones to reopening the US,” Mendel said. “We believe it’s important to use our technology and resources to contribute in the fight against this disease. Our goal was to provide broad access to an easy to use, sample-to-answer solution for detection of this emerging virus to help our customers address this global health emergency.” 

In another part of Carlsbad, Argonaut Manufacturing Services has ramped up its manufacturing services to help clients throughout the world quickly test for the disease as well as provide additional critically needed services. 

Two employees dressed in white PPE work in a lab
Employees at work at Argonaut Manufacturing Services. Courtesy photo

“As we all know, diagnostic testing looks like a way of life for all of us over the next several months or even years,” Wayne Woodard, CEO of Argonaut Manufacturing Services, said. “The urgent need for COVID-19 testing has driven demand for rapid manufacturing scale-up, which is one service we offer here at Argonaut. At the same time, our fill/finish services are needed to support clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines. Demand has been so great that we have increased our production capacity and streamlined our onboarding in order to support as many clients as possible.”

Although GenMark Diagnostics’s history dates back to 1994 at CalTech, while Argonaut Manufacturing Services was founded four years ago, both companies have benefited from the environment founded in Carlsbad. 

Mendel said the company moved from Los Angeles County to tap into the talent pool. 

“It was critical to our early and future success that we were positioned to recruit top-notch talent and that we would be poised for rapid growth over the years,” said Mendel, who noted GenMark is expanding production capacity with the construction of a new facility and equipment. “Carlsbad was an ideal fit as a hotbed of biotech talent. Carlsbad is an attractive location providing the quality of life that our employees desire for their families, while also being close enough to other top biotech companies and universities to deliver a rich pool of scientists, engineers and other talent to allow us to remain competitive as an employer.” 

Woodard echoed Mendel’s comments, saying Carlsbad checked all its required boxes for finding the right home for Argonaut. Some of the requirements included having a talented selection of workers, and an affordable place to live while also being in close proximity to other centers of innovation, such as the Bay Area. 

“Carlsbad was the obvious choice,” Woodard said. “Carlsbad has talented people to employ and supportive city/county leadership. We employ over 100 people now here in Carlsbad, and many of our team members love living near where they work. Our connections with BIOCOM, Cal State San Marcos, Palomar College and MiraCosta College have also been so helpful for our recruiting efforts. Short commutes to the local neighborhoods surrounding Carlsbad and strong community support have made a big difference to us.”

The proficient minds found at these Carlsbad-based companies, along with the support of the city, will continue to drive the life sciences sector.

“Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic has created, our employees have been working harder than ever to support our clients,” Woodard said. “The pride I have when I see our parking lot full as usual is hard to explain. The City of Carlsbad has been a great ally in Argonaut’s growth, and we look forward to a continued partnership.”

More than 6,500 people were employed at 128 life science companies in 2019 in the city of Carlsbad — the number of employed is 5.4 times the national average, according to city data. As more life science companies grow in Carlsbad, the industry will continue to play an important role in the fight against the world’s diseases.