Better together: How working together accelerates coronavirus research

The pandemic has changed a great deal over the past several months, but it has not changed the resolve and ingenuity of scientists the world over. Researchers in every country, in every corner of the globe, have been working tirelessly toward a vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus. The scientific and medical research communities stand united in their tireless efforts to find not just a vaccine, but other effective therapeutics such as antiviral drugs, peptide inhibitors, nucleoside analogues, and monoclonal antibodies—and we have never been more honored to stand with them.

As the race to change the course of this pandemic continues, we wanted to highlight how working together has already had an impact—not only on vaccine development efforts, but also on the ongoing impact of the novel coronavirus.

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What’s in a vaccine?

In theory, a vaccine is simple: a substance (such as a killed or weakened virus) is introduced that will cause an immune response without making the patient sick. This “primes” the immune system to attack similar pathogens, providing immunity to the illness.

In practice, however, the process is much more complicated, carries the risk of side effects, and can take years. But the scientific community has had a bit of help.

Kickstarting the search 

Shortly after the initial coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, China shared  the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. Coupled with prior vaccine development on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which shares between 80 and 90% of its genetic sequence with the novel coronavirus, these efforts have helped researchers and companies accelerate vaccine development.

BioTek's versatile MultiFlo™ FX Multi-Mode Dispenser automates many routine liquid handling tasks from dispensing to plate washing and media exchange in a compact modular system.

What works? Teamwork.

One of the companies aiding in the fight is BioTek (now part of Agilent), whose array of instruments for imaging, detection, and liquid handling accelerate the processing of thousands of samples (including bulk dispensation of PCR master mix). One of BioTek’s instruments, the MultiFlo FX, is used to dispense the RT-PCR master mix just downstream of the RNA extraction and concentration of RNA from specimens. The extracted RNA serves as the basis for most COVID-19 testing.

In late March, a large commercial laboratory inquired whether BioTek would be able to supply 800TS readers to start the evaluations for use in researching coronavirus—and whether it could begin within a week.

Working closely with the laboratory, BioTek had a plan in less than 24 hours. In less than a week, they started shipping 800 TS Absorbance Reader. An order for five units have been delivered and will be used to accelerate COVID-19 research in local communities.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention is currently evaluating a range of products studying coronavirus, including the PowerWave HT Microplate Spectrometers, Epoch2 Microplate Spectrophotometer, and 405 Automated Microplate Washers.

Making a clean job of it

While social distancing has helped flatten the curve of coronavirus cases, it carries unique challenges in a manufacturing setting. Cross-contamination between shifts is a concern and, after all, how can you work together while remaining six feet apart?

Working with employees, the manufacturing division at BioTek responded by splitting the shifts into two groups: an AM shift (3 AM to 12 PM) and a PM shift (1 PM to 8 PM). Between the two shifts, the manufacturing facility is completely shut down, a cleaning crew is brought in, and the facility is scrubbed to help ensure worker health and safety.

Collaborations span countries

Scientific collaborations between the US and China have stayed strong during this pandemic. Though respiratory masks have been in short supply in both China and the US, Agilent China was able to obtain 2,000 medical-grade masks from a Chinese vendor and supply them to the BioTek facility in Vermont.

Due to the risk of transmission, BioTek did not want to send its staff into the field without masks. This action allowed BioTek field staff—many of whom are scientists themselves—to continue to work directly with researchers and clinicians in labs and hospitals toward understanding the novel coronavirus.

Working together to move mountains

While the novel coronavirus is a present threat in every nation and continent, it provides something rare: a single thread to tie us to a common cause. We are stronger together, better together, and we are thankful for the opportunity to supply so many of the tools that are being used to lay the groundwork to overcome this pandemic.

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