BUILDING BETTER BIO: Local tech companies are helping pave a path to the light at the end of the tunnel.

By Sonner Kehrt

Illustrations by Whitney Wong

Next-gen sequencing
When researchers first sequenced the human genome, it took 13 years and almost $3 billion. Today, faster, higher volume technologies mean that we can process hundreds of thousands of genes at once. These “high-throughput” tools allow researchers to quickly search many samples at once for specific genetic sequences. At its new testing facility in Emeryville, Octant is anticipating processing up to 10,000 COVID tests daily, with the possibility of increasing that number as time goes by.



Speedy testing
Traditional molecular testing for COVID-19 can take several days or even weeks to receive results — not just because of how long it takes to process each test, but also because testing sites all rely on the same materials. Designing new tests that use different technologies — like Mammoth’s CRISPR-based test, which can process 1,500 samples in an eight-hour shift — not only improves processing times in the lab, but also avoids bottlenecks in supply chains.


In need of new therapies
Vaccines are providing a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still desperately in need of therapeutics to treat the virus. Researchers at Vanderbilt University, working with Berkeley Lights’ platform, found more than 500 potential antibodies in a single day — two of which are at the heart of a new antibody cocktail from AstraZeneca, which is currently in clinical trials.



[ Read more: Biotech’s Brave New World: Bay Area startups band together to ramp up coronavirus research and testing} ]

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