The COVID-19 pandemic made us acutely aware of how devastating a biologically driven event (in this case a virus) can be. We have seen how important it is to have the right tools in place, including an ample supply on hand, to manage and fight the spread of the virus. More importantly, we now know we need to have the right safeguards in place to prevent another pandemic – whether manmade or naturally occurring – from happening again. Fortunately, Battelle is working diligently on both fronts.
In March of this year, hundreds of Battelle employees pivoted from their day jobs to support the roll out of the Critical Care Decontamination SystemTM in response to the N95 shortage. I was fortunate to support the incredible Critical Care Decontamination System team by helping to enroll and onboard customers into the mask decontamination program. With more than 2.6 million masks decontaminated to date, Battelle has been able to help keep thousands of frontline healthcare workers and first responders safe during the pandemic.
There are several other ways Battelle is responding to the pandemic to help the nation. A COVID-19 testing facility has been set up at our West Jefferson, OH, campus and is ramping up to increase much-needed testing capacity. Battelle researchers and scientists are developing new methods for rapid diagnostic testing that could lead to a simple at-home test. Passive testing programs are being implemented, such as monitoring wastewater for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to identify potential COVID clusters' emergence. In terms of treating COVID, our Clinical and Non-Clinical Research business is working with pharmaceutical companies as part of the federal government’s Warp Speed initiative to develop and test COVID vaccine candidates. Researchers are conducting surface contamination studies for the EPA to determine how long viruses can persist on surfaces. Another Battelle group works with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) to test how long the virus stays on commonly used library and museum items.
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Battelle solvers also are developing biosecurity solutions to prevent the next pandemic. Environmental monitoring systems that take air samples and identify early on if any concerning pathogens are present are currently being tested. The Battelle ThreatSEQ DNA screening software helps gene synthesis companies identify dangerous DNA sequences to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Infectious disease surveillance tools that can serve as an early warning system for the emergence of a new virus are being developed. These early detection systems will be critical to identifying and limiting the spread of a new virus.
These efforts by Battelle, along with the efforts of many other organizations across the country, are vital to helping us return to our daily lives with the confidence that we’ll be safe from threats. As biotechnology advances become more powerful, we must prevent or minimize the impact of any future biological event from disrupting life to the degree we have seen over the past seven months. It is comforting to know that Battelle solvers are working hard every day to ensure this happens.
About Neeraj Rao:
After completing my undergrad degree in biochemistry at UC San Diego, I started my career in biotechnology working in R&D at various biotech companies on things like cancer diagnostics, drug discovery, and developing salt tolerant plants. After getting my MBA, I transitioned into business development at companies like Illumina and Luminex. Biotechnology involves working with cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. Thinking about how biotechnology can be misused – whether accidentally or intentionally – had largely been an afterthought for me as the benefits always seemed to outweigh the risks. That way of thinking changed for me when I joined Battelle last year as a Computational BioSecurity business leader and became immersed in the world of biosecurity.