Growing Carlsbad Life Sciences Companies Play Pivotal Role, Look to the Future in Fight Against COVID-19 Pandemic

February 4, 2022

Carlsbad life sciences companies have played a pivotal role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to answer the call in the fight against the disease as the pandemic enters its third year.

Carlsbad is emerging as a robust life sciences cluster with more than 130 life science companies 5.4 times higher than the national average. Some of those companies including COPAN Diagnostics, GenMark Diagnostics and Quidel Corporation ​—​ have even expanded amid the pandemic to meet the growing demand to test more people. All three companies are currently hiring.

Quidel Corporation 

Quidel Corporation, a provider of rapid diagnostic testing solutions, cellular-based virology assays and molecular diagnostic systems, was the first company to receive Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a rapid point-of-care antigen test for COVID-19. 

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

In February 2021, Quidel signed a lease to buildout a  new manufacturing facility in Carlsbad. The company celebrated its grand opening in November 2021.

Quidel’s new 128,000-square-foot facility produces its QuickVue line of products and is the company’s highest-volume production plant in the world. The facility aims to make more than 600 million QuickVue tests per year for the detection and diagnosis of COVID-19 infections.

“From the first days of the pandemic, Quidel has stepped up to meet the COVID-19 challenge head-on with innovative diagnostic technologies to detect coronavirus infections and expanded manufacturing to democratize access to affordable and high-quality testing,” Douglas Bryant, president and CEO of Quidel Corporation, said at the time in a news release. “The opening of our massive new QuickVue manufacturing plant is our boldest move yet and is expected to provide Quidel with the scale necessary to serve the needs of communities and institutions for frequent testing now and for years to come.”

To view the company’s opportunities, visit Quidel’s career page.

GenMark Diagnostics

GenMark Diagnostics, a leading provider of multiplex molecular diagnostic tests, quickly answered the call to test more people during the pandemic. The company was given FDA Emergency Use Authorization to distribute its rapid PCR-based COVID-19 test.

GenMark was able to quickly expand and meet demand because the company put in place safeguards to ensure the health and safety of employees and their families.

GenMark Diagnostics is headquartered in Carlsbad. (Credit: GenMark Diagnostics)

 “With COVID-19, we added additional safeguards at our facilities above and beyond county, state and federal guidelines to ensure we are doing all we can to protect our most important asset — our people,” said Tanya Monga, CEO and president of GenMark.

“Those safeguards have allowed us not only to continue our important work, but to grow because of the increased demand for our respiratory panel diagnostic tests. This includes a test for the virus that causes COVID-19 as well as over 20 other viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory infections.”

Along with the safeguards the company put in place, GenMark has taken additional steps to adapt and prepare amid the ever-changing pandemic. The company is updating its business continuity planning, especially around COVID-19 testing, to ensure the business stays operating. The company has also adopted a hybrid workforce, with some employees in the office and others working from home, and ensured employees have the proper tools to work, communicate and manage teams remotely.

GenMark Diagnostics has increased its manufacturing capacity in Carlsbad. (Credit: GenMark Diagnostics)

In mid-2021, Roche, the world’s largest biotech company, acquired GenMark, infusing capital and establishing Roche’s presence in Carlsbad. ​​

Monga said the acquisition will further “fuel the company’s growth” by expanding its product reach on a global level.  

“The health care landscape is changing rapidly, introducing new challenges and exciting opportunities,” Monga said.

“Because of this we must adapt as well. Our own expertise, now coupled with the strong medical, scientific and regulatory expertise at Roche, best positions us to shape health care for the benefit of society and expands the global reach of our product offerings. Becoming part of the Roche family also opens new avenues for innovations that can transform health care and improve the lives of patients.”

GenMark actively monitors the emergence of new COVID variants and confirms the ability of the company’s assay to detect them. To date, the company’s ePlex Respiratory Pathogen Panel 2 (RP2) can detect all known prevalent variants, said Christine Shaw, vice president of Assay Development for GenMark.

GenMark expects to continue to grow this year as its product line expands.

“2021 highlighted the value of multiplex testing and the importance of the hospital laboratory in diagnosing and treating disease,” Monga said. “As we move into 2022 and beyond, we are focused on expanding our product pipeline, especially around adding new syndromic panels to our ePlex Platform. We will also continue our efforts to build even greater capacity to help ensure that even more patients can have access to the value of syndromic diagnostic tests.” 

To view the company’s opportunities, visit GenMark’s career page.

COPAN Diagnostics

COPAN Diagnostics is a market leader for the sample collection and transport kits that play a crucial role in COVID-19 testing. Prior to the pandemic, COPAN, part of the international COPAN Group, was already considered one of the leading suppliers of the kits in the U.S. and around the world.

The same swab products used to test for influenza or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are used to test for COVID-19. So 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.

COPAN Diagnostics is a market leader for sample collection and transport kits. (Credit: Copan Diagnostics) 

COPAN increased its capacity from producing several thousand test kits per week in the U.S. to over half a million kits per week.

“Even though we were familiar with ramp-ups from big demands, this was like nothing that the world had ever seen before,” COPAN CEO Norman Sharples said.

In order to reach 1 million kits per week, COPAN expanded its U.S. operations from Murrieta to Carlsbad in the summer of 2020. The company occupies a 38,000-square-foot building known as Carlsbad Crossroads.

 COPAN Diagnostics occupies a 38,000-square-foot building in Carlsbad. (Credit: Copan Diagnostics)

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.

“Through the experience of 2020, we realized that we needed to be closer to the customers so that we could serve them in a more agile manner, in a faster way to get the products quicker to them,” said Gabriela Franco, COPAN ‘s chief operating officer.

“That’s been a huge lesson from 2021,” Franco added. “This pandemic has made us all rethink how our business model was working.”

Sharples and Franco agreed that the pandemic also stressed the importance of having a good team. 

“That’s one of the good things about opening the factory in Carlsbad,” Franco said. “We’ve been able to find a lot of really talented people. The pool of talent in Carlsbad is quite remarkable.”

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

“We’ve built a factory here that’s going to last a long time, past COVID,” Sharples said. “We’re going to build on our other applications in the industry.”

As local life sciences companies like COPAN, GenMark and Quidel continue to grow, the industry in Carlsbad will continue to play a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19 and other diseases around the world.

“Carlsbad is the hub of biotech,” Sharples said.

To view the company’s opportunities, visit COPAN’s career page.