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Local Company to Deliver Scalable COVID-19 Testing Needed to Reopen Economy

Mayor Faulconer Tours San Diego Genomics Company Helix Prior to Launch of New Covid-19 Testing Service With Plans to Create Rapid Tests For Widespread Use

Friday, May 29, 2020 - NEWS RELEASE

SAN DIEGO – Continuing efforts to provide relief to San Diegans and fight COVID-19, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer today toured a local genomics company, Helix, that is working to implement large-scale COVID-19 testing as estimates show the need for testing will more than triple as part of society begin to reopen.

Helix employees have been transforming their facility into a massively scalable COVID-19 testing lab to meet the needs of the City of San Diego, the state of California, and the nation more broadly. Starting next week, Helix will launch a PCR-based COVID-19 diagnostic testing service similar to labs across the county before shifting to a next-generation sequencing-based test that will be more sensitive. Helix anticipates scaling daily capacity to more than 50,000 tests per day.

“San Diego is reopening, our businesses are beginning the recovery process and residents are shifting into this new normal,” said Mayor Faulconer. “Ultimately, what will help bring about the end of this pandemic is widespread testing that can be done quickly and efficiently, and Helix is working to deliver a new, innovative approach that will save lives.”

As the nation continues to grapple with this aggressive virus, anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 tests are run per day across the country. Estimates for what we need to start to reopen the economy, however, range from one million to 10 million per day.

“There remains a significant need to increase testing capacity in San Diego and across the entire country to enable communities to continue to safely reopen. By leveraging our expertise in next-generation sequencing and population health, we believe we can play a meaningful role in scaling COVID-19 testing,” said Marc Stapley, Helix’s President and CEO. “We’re proud to be a part of San Diego’s vibrant life sciences community and work alongside many other talented individuals and companies in the fight against COVID-19.”

Background on Helix:

In response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, Helix is launching a PCR-based COVID-19 diagnostic testing service in early June to meet the needs of health systems and other healthcare providers in California and across the country. In parallel, Helix is also working to develop a COVID-19 test based on next-generation sequencing technology that will be more sensitive than PCR-based testing and, importantly, significantly more scalable – with a goal of launching by mid-summer. While testing capacity has ramped up over the past month with the U.S. conducting 300,000 to 400,000 tests per day, there is still significant need to increase scale to enable communities to begin to re-open – estimates for required capacity range from one to 10 million tests.

In addition to its testing efforts, Helix is also contributing to global research efforts to advance our collective knowledge of COVID-19 – from exploring novel approaches to diagnosis to exploring the genetic susceptibility of COVID-19. Below are some recent examples of COVID-19 research driven by Helix:

  • Evaluating the viability of saliva as a specimen type: In a study with 88 patients in the community setting, Helix and its collaborators at Renown Health and UC San Diego found saliva-based COVID-19 testing was 30% less sensitive than nasopharyngeal swabs, making it an unsuitable specimen type for broad community-based testing. The research is available as a preprint on medRxiv and summarized in a blog post.
  • Large-scale user research: Helix surveyed its large pre-sequenced and consented research participants about possible COVID-19 exposure, symptoms, and treatment to better understand genetic susceptibility to COVID-19. They’re analyzing the data now, but more information about the work can be found here and preliminary insights have been reported here
  • Variation in the ACE2 receptor: Helix also looked across several hundred thousand exomes to analyze variation in the ACE2 receptor, which is the binding site for SARS-CoV-2 and thought to play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility. The preprint can be found on bioRxiv.

For more information on the California “Stay At Home” order, including what’s closed, what’s open and which industries are exempted by the state, please visit California COVID-19 response website.

For information regarding COVID-19 cases and directives from County of San Diego public health officials, please visit www.coronavirus-sd.com.

For the updates on City services, programs, links to helpful information and steps the public can take to help reduce the spread of the disease, please visit sandiego.gov/coronavirus.


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