As the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread around the world in early 2020, many researchers shifted their focus to support the global endeavors to address the challenge. For two professors at the University of Wisconsin, their efforts started with animal models to study pathogenicity and grew into massive SARS-CoV-2 sequencing and COVID-19 testing projects.
“Being a scientist in this field gives a sense of purpose, but also a sense of obligation and responsibility,” says David O’Connor, PhD. “You always want to feel like you’re living up to that.”
Among the one trillion or so species that share space on our planet, complex relationships have emerged over time. Such relationships, in which two or more species closely interact, are collectively termed symbiosis. Although it’s commonly assumed that symbiotic relationships are mutually beneficial, this example constitutes only one type of symbiosis (known as mutualism). The traditional predator-prey relationship, clearly a one-sided arrangement, is also an example of symbiosis.
The sheer diversity of microbial species has led to the development of many well-characterized relationships with plants and animals. Perhaps the best-known example of mutualism in this context is the process of nitrogen fixation. In this process, various types of bacteria that live in water, soil or root nodules convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms that are readily used by plants. On the other hand, some types of bacteria-plant relationships are parasitic: the bacteria rely on the plant for survival but end up damaging their host. Parasitic relationships can have devastating ecological and economic consequences when they affect food crops.
The past year has been a challenge. Amidst the pandemic, we’re thankful for the tireless work of our dedicated employees. With their support, we have continuously stayed engaged and prepared during all stages of the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can serve our customers at the highest levels.
How We Got Here
The persistent work by our teams has made a great impact on the support we can provide for scientists and our community during the pandemic. From scaling up manufacturing to investing in new automation, every effort has helped.
Promega has a long history of manufacturing reagents, assays, and benchtop instruments for both researching and testing viruses. When the pandemic began in 2020, we responded quickly and efficiently to unprecedented demands. In the past year, we experienced an approximately 10-fold increase in demand for finished catalog and custom products for COVID-19 testing. In response to these demands, we increased production lines. One year ago, we ran one shift five days per week. Currently, we run three shifts seven days per week. This change has allowed 50 different Promega products to support SARS-CoV-2 testing globally in hospitals, clinical diagnostic laboratories, and molecular diagnostic manufacturers. Additionally, our clinical diagnostics materials make up about 2/3 of COVID-19 PCR tests on the global market today. Since January 2020, Promega has supplied enough reagents to enable testing an estimated 700 million samples for SARS-CoV-2 worldwide.
Developments and Advances
Promega products are used in viral and vaccine research. This year, our technologies have been leveraged for virtually every step of pandemic response from understanding SARS-CoV-2 to testing to research studies looking at vaccine response.
We are extremely grateful for our employees. In the past year, we hired over 100 people and still have positions open today. While welcoming newcomers, this challenging year also reinforced the importance of our collaborative culture. Relationships at Promega have been built over multiple years. The long history of our teams allows us to stay coordinated while prioritizing product distribution to customers across the globe. It also leads to effective communication with colleagues and vendors. Those leading our manufacturing operations team, for example, have an average tenure of 15 years. Their history in collaborating through challenging situations helps them quickly focus where needed most.
Our 600 on-site employees support product manufacturing, quality, and R&D. They do it all while remaining COVID-conscious by social distancing, wearing masks, working split shifts, and restricting movement between buildings. While we continue to practice physical safety precautions, we also prioritize our employees’ mental health and wellness. Promega provides a variety of wellness resources including phone and video mental health sessions, virtual fitness and nutrition classes, and stress and anxiety tools.
What’s to Come
While we acknowledge that the COVID-19 is not over, we are proud of the support we have been able to provide to customers working both on pandemic research and critical research not related to COVID-19. Our policies of long-term planning and investing in the future has allowed us to respond quickly and creatively and learn from the experience.
This blog is written by guest blogger, Heather Tomlinson, Director of Clinical Diagnostics at Promega.
Finding safe and effective treatments for human diseases takes time. Medication and diagnostic tests can take decades to discover, develop and prove safe and effective. In the United States, the FDA stands as the gold-standard gatekeeper to ensure that treatments and tests are reliable and safe. The time we wait in review and clearance means less risk of ineffective or unsafe treatments.
And yet, in a pandemic, we are behind before we even start the race to develop diagnostic tests, so critical for understanding how an infectious disease is spreading. That is when processes like the FDA’s fast track of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) are critical. Such authorization allows scientists and clinicians to be nimble and provide the best possible test protocol as quickly as possible, with the understanding that these protocols will continue to be evaluated and improved as new information becomes available. The EUA focuses resources and accelerates reviews that keep science at the fore and gets us our best chance at staying safe and healing.
For scientists working around the clock, the FDA’s EUA process is ready to review and respond. Getting an EUA gives clinical labs a very specific and tested resource to guide them to the tools and tests to use in a crisis.
Typically the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will develop the first test or protocol that receives FDA EUA in response to a crisis like a pandemic. For COVID-19 the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel received FDA EUA clearance in early February. This is the test protocol used by the public health labs that work with the CDC and test manufacturers around the world.
Throughout a crisis such as the current pandemic, scientists continually work to improve the testing protocols and add options to the EUA protocols. This enables more flexibility in the test protocols. Promega is fortunate to play a part of the CDC EUA equation for diagnostic testing. Our GoTaq® Probe 1-Step PRT-qPCR System is one of a few approved options for master mixes in the CDC qPCR diagnostic test, and now our medium-throughput Maxwell 48 Instrument and Maxwell Viral Total Nucleic Acid Purification Kit have been added to the CDC protocol as an option for the RNA isolation step as well. These additions to the CDC EUA means that laboratories have more resources at their disposal for the diagnostic testing which is so critical to effective pandemic response.
The Emergency Use Authorization provides the FDA guidance to strengthen our nation’s public health during emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. The EUA allows continual improvement of an authorized protocol through the collaborative efforts scientists in all academia, government and industry to identify and qualify the most reliable technologies and systems, giving labs more flexibility as new products are added as options.
Dr. Tomlinson is the Director for the Global Clinical Diagnostics Strategic Business Unit at Promega Corporation with over 15 years of experience in clinical diagnostic test development. She is responsible for leading the team that drives strategy in the clinical market for Promega. Her background is in infectious disease diagnostic testing, with a focus on HIV drug resistance and evolution. Her recent work has been in oncology companion diagnostic test development. Heather has is an accomplished international presenter, delivering conference presentations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
This blog is written by guest blogger, Dr Rajnish Bharti, General Manager of Promega Biotech India Pvt Ltd.
As COVID-19 cases accelerate, the country of India has decided to scale up testing capacity to 100,000 tests per day in the coming days.
In a major step to counter the coronavirus crisis, Promega India is supporting government agencies throughour automated instruments. The Maxwell® RSC instrument is a compact, automated RNA extraction platform that processes up to 48 samples simultaneously in less than 35 minutes. The automated Promega solution allows laboratories to process up to 400 samples in a typical 8-hour shift.
Traditionally, scientists have relied on flat,
two-dimensional cell cultures grown on substrates such as tissue culture
polystyrene (TCPS) to study cellular physiology. These models are simple and
cost-effective to culture and process. Within the last decade, however, three-dimensional
(3D) cell cultures have become increasingly popular because they are more
physiologically relevant and better represent in vivo conditions.
Ever think about the kinds of challenges R&D scientists run up against in the course of developing a new product? The development of the Maxwell® RSC ccfDNA (circulating cell-free DNA) Plasma Kit is a particularly interesting example. Its path to commercialization was characterized by a number of unexpected technical hurdles, yet each was overcome through creative troubleshooting and aided by valuable collaborations across departments. All had a hand in finally launching the kit last August.
The product’s launch was an exciting milestone for Promega as research interest in the role of ccfDNA as biomarkers in human disease continues to grow. Elevated levels of ccfDNA have now been reported in patients with cancer, inflammatory disease, infections and cardiovascular disease. In pregnant women, up to 10% of ccfDNA can be attributed to the fetus, so critical fetal DNA analysis can now be conducted through maternal blood samples. There are many advantages in the ability to isolate and analyze ccfDNA, so the development of a kit with high throughput capability was a priority for the Nucleic Acid Purification R&D team. Continue reading “The Making of a Promega Product: Teamwork = Success for the Maxwell RSC® ccfDNA Plasma Kit”
Back in the dark ages, when I was a graduate student, my idea of “automated” plasmid DNA extraction involved performing home-brew, “toothpick preps” in “strip tubes” or , if I was really feeling ambitious, a 96-well plate.
I would get just enough DNA to check for the presence of an insert, but the quality of the DNA was too low and the quantity too small to even consider using it for any other downstream experiments like amplification.
And increased throughput for other nucleic acid extraction needs? Nope. If I wanted genomic DNA, RNA or high-quality plasmid DNA, I spent time with columns and tubes, giving each sample my undivided individual attention.
Remember cesium chloride preps for RNA isolation? Even with the advent of column purification, which greatly simplified and standardized my protocols, nucleic acid purification was still a manual task that required a lot of time and effort to get the high-quality product I needed.
Doing the experiments that would answer the questions that I really wanted to ask (those “downstream experiments”), meant spending time at the bench performing careful (if tedious) work to isolate and clean up the highest quality nucleic acid possible. Even then inconsistency in sample prep could wreak havoc on downstream work.
Fortunately, for the modern scientist, personal, bench top automation, has progressed far beyond the toothpick and the strip tube to quality-tested, reliable nucleic acid extraction platforms like the Maxwell® Rapid Sample Concentrator (RSC).
The Maxwell® RSC improves sample preparation consistency, eliminating variability associated with manual handling, and your downstream results will reflect this consistency. With the RSC you can extract DNA or RNA from up to 16 samples in approximately 1 hour and viral total nucleic acids in less than an hour.
The instrument is easy to use: simply load the sample, push a button and walk away. Cross contamination is minimized and the instrument is supported by the Promega technical support and service you have come to trust over the past 35 years.
Want to know more about how the Maxwell® RSC can give you the freedom to focus on the work that interests you the most? To learn more, click here.