Carlsbad’s Life Science Support Organizations Take on Challenge to Fight COVID-19

April 13, 2020

As the new coronavirus outbreak spreads throughout the world, Carlsbad’s life sciences industry is taking on the challenge to combat the virus that causes the infectious disease, COVID-19. 

Bio, Tech & Beyond and Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute are two life sciences industry support organizations based in Carlsbad that have announced efforts to fight the COVID-19 disease. Bio, Tech & Beyond is working to provide a test kit that will detect the virus on environmental surfaces, while nonprofit Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute is assisting in bringing a life-saving device to the American market. 

Scientists work inside the lab at Bio, Tech & Beyond in Carlsbad. Courtesy photo.

“Biotech is the most important industry in the world and the 21st century is the life sciences century,” said Joseph Jackson, CEO of Bio, Tech & Beyond, which provides inexpensive, shared access to equipment for early stage biotech research. “Carlsbad has about 25 percent of the region’s life science companies and jobs centered here.”

Jackson, who founded Bio, Tech & Beyond in 2012, is leading a group of volunteers made up of scientists and business people  to create a test kit that would be able to detect the disease on surfaces. 

Our goal is to provide a test collection kit to swab environmental surfaces such as gas station pumps or door handles and run PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to see if the virus is still detectable outside and may be contributing to community spread,” Jackson said. “A simple blood test can give a quick answer, but kits are not yet available and even the raw materials to make the test and run on ourselves using our standard lab equipment is hard to source at the moment.”

Jackson said the test will be available later this month. The incubator has also taken the initiative to work in other areas in the fight against the disease. 

“We are also working with some local companies to source and scale up manufacturing of the essential reagents needed for widespread blood testing of the population,” Jackson said. “These ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) tests and lateral flow antibody tests will be key in tracking who already had exposure and immunity to the virus so they can then go back to work or volunteer to help without risk of infecting others.”

Researchers at work at Bio, Tech & Beyond in Carlsbad. Courtesy photo.

While Jackson and his team work on tracking down the disease and how it spreads, Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute hopes to bring a life-saving device to Americans suffering from COVID-19. 

Richard Jaenisch, Director of Education and Outreach for Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute, said the nonprofit is currently working on guidelines for the device, which is currently approved in Germany for other uses. 

Open Biopharma Campus. Courtesy photo.

“The device is ventilator-sparing and reduces the potential for lung damage,” said Jaenisch, whose nonprofit’s mission is to reduce the price of drugs by decreasing the cost of biopharma manufacturing. “The device reduces the likelihood of the cytokine storm (complications of respiratory diseases), and subsequently, acute respiratory distress syndrome. We’re helping produce strategies along with allowing the use of our facility when their eventual production needs happen after the device is considered safe by the FDA through Emergency Use Authorization.”

Once the device hits the American market, Jaenisch said providers will be able to use it to help current patients.

“The guidance we’re preparing through meta-analysis and systematic literature review also encourages different immune health strategies for primary care providers and hospitals alike, to supplement the device, and hopefully improve the health and lives of those who suffer from COVID-19,” Jaenisch said.

The efforts taking place in Carlsbad might not be a surprise to some as the life sciences industry has grown into a powerful force in the region. Jaenisch and Jackson both said Carlsbad has attracted an assortment of businesses and organizations to the beachside city for various reasons. 

“Carlsbad is excellent for life sciences, not only because of its proximity as a cluster to other life science companies, but because many people in life sciences live near or in Carlsbad,” Jaenisch said. “We chose Carlsbad because it’s the perfect place for a biopharma manufacturing core facility, a training and research site that can help bring together the community through upskilling, education, and novel research.”

City staffers have also been helpful in the industry, Jackson said.

“The City of Carlsbad is very proactive about attracting talent to the region,” Jackson said. “The economic development team is great and is always a good reference point for getting your bearings when starting a business here or relocating from another city.  The combination of a highly educated workforce and a great quality of life makes it an attractive place to found and grow a company.” 

With the support of the city, the talented workers in Carlsbad and the common goal of fighting COVID-19, Jackson said he hopes the current crisis isn’t one the world will see again.