Guest Columnist

How Iowa's biotech industry is contributing to coronavirus response

A DNA synthesizer used to create custom strands of DNA and RNA at Integrated DNA Technologies in Coralville.
A DNA synthesizer used to create custom strands of DNA and RNA at Integrated DNA Technologies in Coralville.

The global and local spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus and the effects of COVID-19, the disease it causes, have upended the daily lives of millions of people around the world. IowaBio’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical members are stepping up in big ways to address this challenge head-on.

Whether it be through vaccine development, creating and manufacturing test kit components, collaboration to speed research or test processing, donations of critical resources like personal protective equipment, or the development of information resources, these companies and institutions are approaching this challenging time with a focus on collaboration, community, and ultimately the science that will solve this pandemic.

As the executive director of the Iowa Biotechnology Association, I work with our amazing bio companies and researchers every day. Our bio economy includes all the usual suspects like livestock genetics, seed genetics and biomass technologies, but we also have companies in Iowa that are working on developing industrial enzymes, human gene research, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. Some of Iowa’s biotech companies and institutions are taking leading roles amid the pandemic.

Coralville based company Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) is doing its part to help meet the huge demand for COVID-19 tests. In March, IDT was able to ramp up large-scale manufacturing of a key component used in COVID-19 tests called a primer and probe kit. The kits created by IDT were the first made by an American company to be approved by the CDC. They are now able to produce components for as many as 5 million test per week, and by April 3 they had produced enough kits to enable roughly 23 million tests.

Many of Iowa’s research institutions for animal or plant research have been able to step up and offer their space, equipment, and test capacity to the fight against coronavirus. One such example is the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University, which has loaned its critical equipment and reagents to the State Hygienic Lab (SHL) at the University of Iowa to ensure they can run more COVID-19 test simultaneously.

In the state of Iowa and across the country, biotech and biopharmaceutical companies are working overtime to fight this pandemic. They are searching for new treatments and a vaccine. They are creating the components necessary for tests. They are running the tests. They are keeping vital global supply chains open. Iowa’s bio tech companies have answered the call to work together to defeat COVID-19

Jessica Hyland is executive director Iowa Biotechnology Association.

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