Philly Biotech is on It

Flailing about for a way to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, Pres. Trump’s administration has grabbed the medical device and pharmaceutical industries up in a bear hug.

That means Philadelphia area companies and research institutions that have already been working on efforts to better understand and detect the virus are now at the tip of the spear of the nation’s disorganized response effort.

“You have to embrace the private sector,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top expert on infectious disease, at a White House press conference Friday afternoon.

The private sector response includes the work of Philly’s own Biomeme, which started working on a test for the virus on January 23—soon after the genome sequence was shared with scientists around the world.

On Friday morning, news broke that the Food and Drug Administration granted approval to the first commercially available system for detecting whether someone is infected with the coronavirus.

The test developed by Switzerland-based Roche Holdings AG runs on a device that is already installed in locations all around the globe, and can spit out results in four hours, according to Bloomberg, which said the company will be able to provide millions of tests every month.

The FDA subsequently granted a similar emergency use authorization to Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher for another diagnostic test.

One of Philadelphia’s chief industries is the research and development of medical technology, and indeed Philly researchers are part of the global race to get a handle on the new virus that has triggered a pandemic and killed thousands.

The new Penn research center sent out an inaugural tweet on Thursday that consisted of one word: “Testing.”

Biomeme, which is based in Center City, has developed and is marketing “Go-Strips,” which the company says can be used to detect the presence of coronavirus. Biomeme biologist Jesse vanWestrienen cautions that the strips have only been tested on synthetic targets—not human samples—so far. And the Biomeme test kit is right now only permitted for research purposes—not for diagnosing patients.

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