Life Science Tennessee’s latest “Beer & Biotech” meet-up was not only a virtual statewide gathering, but it also had an international flavor courtesy of one of the three panelists.
The late Thursday afternoon event featured a continuation of the spotlight started at the April meet-up on ways that Tennessee-connected assets are helping respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists were:
- Rob Carnahan, Associate Director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center;
- Andrea Pruijssers, Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation; and
- Jonathan Peat, Business Development Manager of QuantuMDx.
The latter provided the international flair, joining the Zoom-enabled conversation from his base in Newcastle in Northeast England. It was a significant contribution by Peat since the event started at 11 p.m. his time. As far as how a British company counts as a Tennessee asset, QuantuMDx’s U.S. operations are located in Chattanooga, providing a direct tie to the Volunteer State.
During his presentation, Peat described how the company dedicated to making transformative, quality diagnostic technologies responded when COVID-19 exploded across the world. He recalled attending a conference in early February in Dubai where a few people were wearing masks. Just a few weeks later – February 20 to be exact, QuantuMDx made what Peat described as “a rather drastic decision” to make a COVID-19 test.
“What normally takes years to happen has taken days and weeks,” he said in outlining key milestones for the company that is now selling its SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR detection testing kit. In the short period of less than three months, he told the attendees how much the environment had changed – from what he called the “Wild West of testing” with unscrupulous vendors at the outset to the many vendors going out of business and better tests replacing earlier offerings.
Both Carnahan and Pruijssers provided more technical presentations as they described the work of their respective Vanderbilt organizations. Carnahan said he expected the first Phase I trials of work coming out of the Vaccine Center to start soon including one that involves a partnership with IDBiologics Inc. (see recent Vanderbilt news release here).
“We had a lot of people working seven days a week for the last three and one-half months,” he added.
Pruijssers, who is the lead antiviral scientist in Vanderbilt’s Denison Research Program, noted that Mark Denison, for whom the program is named, has been studying coronaviruses for three decades. Her work involved providing the first evidence that a drug named EIDD-1931 blocked replication of a broad spectrum of coronaviruses in laboratory tests and prevented these viruses from developing resistance against it (see Vanderbilt news release here.)