“I love science but, at heart, I am an entrepreneur,” says Christian Clevenger, Chief Executive Officer of Integrity Laboratories.
Those two passions have come together in a big way for the Knoxville-based company as it has refocused its energies to respond to the need for more rapid delivery of COVID-19 testing results. In fact, one might say that Integrity Laboratories went “all-in” in mid-March after securing Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
“We’ve pretty much been working 24-7,” Clevenger says. The company added a second shift in May and a third shift in June. That growth also caused it to suspend other services the eight-year old company was providing from its West Knoxville facility.
Today, Integrity Labs does all of the testing for Knox County Health Department and generally can provide results with a 24-hour turnaround time. That is a hallmark of Integrity Labs.
“There are a lot of labs in the marketplace, but they are not focused on speed and efficiency,” Clevenger says. That was a driving force when he decided to found the company in 2011.
“We looked for platforms to expedite turnaround, either same or next day,” he explains, and Clevenger found his solution in something called Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR for short. That was three years ago, and Integrity Laboratories was well-positioned when COVID-19, also referred to as the novel coronavirus, hit earlier this year.
“We had been testing for non-novel coronavirus, so we already had a platform to build on,” Clevenger said. The company was the fourth in the nation to secure the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization approval, and Integrity Laboratories began testing for the novel coronavirus on March 22.
Today, it serves hospitals and physicians locally in addition to the Knox County Health Department.
“We can process as many as 5,000 specimens a day,” Clevenger says.
As noted above, handling such a volume has resulted in Integrity Laboratories suspending all of its other services for now. In March, it was working with clients in 19 states and, at one time, offered services in more than one-half of the states.
“We pulled the plug on the final (non-novel coronavirus testing) service we were offering about a month ago,” Clevenger explained. That decision allowed the company to focus all of its resources, both personnel and materials like plastic supplies, on the COVID-19 tests.
“I want COVID to go away,” he says. “Our DNA is not COVID-19. We have a reengagement strategy to get back to our core business. We have a backlog of products. We have a pipeline we’re ready to start deploying.”
Integrity Laboratories foundation was built on the PCR platform and toxicology testing. It also has a wound test that Jon Ricketts, the company’s Vice President of Business Development, says is “a complete disease testing platform that includes wound, women’s health, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urine microbiota among others.”
Clevenger was born in Knoxville, graduated from Sevier County High School, and went on to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). He says he wanted to study medicine, but soon became captivated by cellular phone technology. Later, Clevenger worked for a couple of what he calls “unique” life science companies on the West Coast. While working for one of them, he also started work on his MBA in the Executive Program at UTK. In the midst of that, the company folded, so Clevenger decided to help his wife with a small family business before founding Integrity Laboratories.
As far as the future, he clearly believes the decision to focus the company’s resources on its hometown was the right one and will also position Integrity Laboratories for long-term growth and success.
“When we look back, we’re going to see a very different story for those that had a capability like Integrity . . . speed and accuracy,” Clevenger says.