Congressman Scott Peters

Representing the 52nd District of California

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San Diego Stepping Up During COVID-19: Profiles Of Action

ResMed – Ventilation Therapy, Respiratory Support Devices  

On March 23, ResMed announced their effort to maximize the availability of ResMed ventilators and other respiratory support devices for patients that need them most during the COVID-19 crisis: “More than 7,500 ResMedians are working in over 140 countries for this purpose. We are working with governments, health authorities, hospitals, physicians, and patients worldwide to assess their needs, and to deliver the ventilation therapy that is essential to treat the respiratory complications of COVID-19.”   

On March 25, they shared plans to double or even triple production of hospital ventilators amid fears of shortages. Their production lines at factories in Singapore and Australia have switched from making sleep apnea machines to make ventilators. A factory that makes their ventilators in Shanghai have also upped production.  

ResMed is a San Diego-based, global leader in digital health and respiratory medicine. Their cloud-connected medical devices transform care for people with sleep apnea, COPD, and other chronic diseases. They offer lower costs for consumers and healthcare systems in more than 140 countries.  

La Jolla Institute for Immunology - Antibody Research  

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., was recently tapped to lead an international team of scientists in the search for antibodies that can treat COVID-19. Dr. Saphire is a structural biologist, immunologist, and professor of the La Jolla Institute (LJI) for Immunology, which has been doing critical work in infectious disease and vaccines for 30-plus years.  

They are now at the center of the global effort to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak, with $1.73 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to focus on what antibody therapies are most effective against the novel coronavirus and to accelerate the research pipeline to provide immunotherapies to treat patients with severe manifestations of the virus.  

Antibodies represent the first line of defense for humans. Antibodies identify bacteria and viruses, some of which can be harmful or deadly. The antibodies latch on to the bad ones and remove them from the body. Scientists can screen for potentially useful antibodies fairly quickly, which is important because the coronavirus is spreading fast. 

Collaborators will include Scripps Research in La Jolla, where Dr. Saphire was formerly a faculty member.  

Scripps Research in La Jolla – Antibody Research  

On April 3, a team of scientists at Scripps Research in La Jolla led by biologist Ian Wilson reported that they found a weak spot in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which may be used in the future to treat the virus by specially targeting the area with strong drugs. The advance arose from a huge and growing effort by scientists globally to find human antibodies that can neutralize or destroy the coronavirus.  

The scientists also are using data from digital fitness devices to track and log COVID-19 symptoms.   

INOVIO Pharmaceuticals – Vaccine Research  

INOVIO began their response to COVID-19 in early February. On February 13, researchers with the company announced that they developed an experimental, DNA-based vaccine for the coronavirus. They fast-tracked efforts to comply with federal testing standards. On April 6, INOVIO began an early Phase 1 human trial for the drug, involving 40 healthy adult volunteers in two states. By the end of the year, they hope to have 1 million doses of the vaccine ready for distribution.  

INOVIO is a global biotechnology company focused on rapidly bringing to market precisely designed DNA medicines to treat, cure, and protect people from diseases associated with HPV, cancer, and infectious diseases. INOVIO worked on the Ebola crisis in 2014 and is the first and only company to have clinically demonstrated that a DNA medicine can be delivered directly into cells in the body via a proprietary smart device to produce a robust and tolerable immune response.  

Rep. Peters visited INOVIO in October 2016 and had an opportunity to meet Dr. Kim, tour their facility, and held an employee Town Hall at the end of his visit. 

Illumina – DNA Sequencing for COVID-19 Genome 

Illumina’s next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology helped enable infectious disease experts to identify and characterize the genome of the novel coronavirus in China, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 24, 2020. This was the first step towards being able to test for and diagnose COVID-19, and will be critical in finding a vaccine. Their work will also help experts track how the virus is spreading and mutating over time.  

Based out of San Diego, Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function. 

Arcturas Therapeutics – COVID-19 Vaccine 

Arcturas Therapeutics is developing a vaccine in conjunction with the country of Singapore and Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School. Researchers will use a special self-replicating RNA platform, known as STARR, and nanoparticle lipid delivery system to develop a vaccine that triggers the body’s immune system to fight the novel coronavirus. This means that they will potentially be able to offer a single-shot, low dose medicine that could vaccinate millions of people for a fraction of the cost and reduce the amount of time it takes to protect large populations. 

Rep. Peters met with CEO Joe Payne and the leadership team of Arcturus on March 18 to learn more about their plans to begin testing their vaccine in Singapore. If successful, they hope to bring the vaccine to the U.S. without having to go through clinical trials here.  

In it’s Torrey Pine lab, Arcturus Therapeutics works to develop a portfolio of RNA therapeutics for the treatment of diseases with high unmet medical needs. 

Hologic – COVID-19 Testing 

Hologic’s test was the first COVID-19 diagnostic product to receive development support from the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The agency’s partnership includes nearly $700,000 in funding. Hologic began shipping the product to labs across the United States in March. Starting in April, they expect to make almost 600,000 of these tests per month. 

Rep. Peters visited Hologic the day they were approved for their new test kits. Their platform machine called Panther is used in many hospitals in labs throughout the country. Their test kit is a continuous throughput test, much faster than a lot of the other tests out there and take hours not days.  

Thermo Fisher Scientific – COVID-19 Testing 

In mid-March, Thermo Fisher was granted emergency authorization by the FDA to produce coronavirus test kits that could diagnose the virus within four hours. These high-speed tests will be given to regional hospitals and laboratories and can diagnose as many as 5 million people a week. Thermo Fisher is one of the five vitro diagnostic manufacturers who has partnered with UC San Diego health and UCSD School of Medicine to help combat COVID-19. 

With it’s West Coast headquarters in Carlsbad, Thermo Fisher Scientific is the world’s largest manufacturer of laboratory equipment. 

Mesa Biotech Inc.  – COVID-19 Testing (Molecular, Point-of-Care) 

On March 24, the FDA approved Mesa Biotech’s request to provide a point-of-care, molecular test for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The company, which employs 50 workers, said its palm-size COVID-19 tests deliver results in as little as 30 minutes. That is significantly faster than the hours or days it can take to get results from centralized labs. Additionally, this authorization allowed Mesa’s tests to be used in moderate to highly complex medical labs and many other health settings with trained professionals like emergency rooms and clinics. This expanded the number of places where tests could be conducted. Mesa was the second point-of-care test provider in the country to receive FDA emergency authorization for COVID-19. 

Mesa Biotech is a privately held San Diego molecular diagnostic company who designs point-of-care flu test.