Jon Brennan-Badal is the CEO of Pandemic Response Lab, which provides high-throughput Covid-19 diagnostic tests to support New York City’s schools, health systems and communities. In response to emailed questions, he shared how the company is expanding its capabilities to address new areas of disease and bridge the access gap many communities face when it comes to diagnostic services.
Why was the Pandemic Response Lab started?
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as cases began to rise, it became clear that a rapidly scalable molecular test model was critical to fighting this virus. The Pandemic Response Lab was founded to meet this need. By leveraging the laboratory automation equipment of our parent company Opentrons Labworks, we are able to offer high-throughput Covid-19 diagnostic tests to directly support New York City’s many schools, healthcare systems and communities. Additionally, our non-diagnostic genomic surveillance capabilities are at the forefront of detecting and tracking future variants and ensuring that our community can respond effectively to spikes in cases. As Covid-19 begins to enter an endemic state, PRL is focusing on expanding its capabilities to target new areas of disease and bridge the access gap many communities face when it comes to diagnostic services.
What specific need / problem are you trying to address in the health sector?
Today, the high cost of testing and limited access to health care are obstacles for many populations to gain vital health information through diagnostic testing. As we have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic, this inequality of access directly impacts our public health response to outbreaks and leads to even worse health outcomes for our communities. PRL’s mission is to bridge this gap by providing fast and affordable diagnostic offerings to communities across the country.
While PRL may have originated in the heart of the pandemic, our mission expands beyond Covid-19. With a successful foundation in place, PRL is now able to offer clinical laboratory services for a variety of diseases. Just last month, we launched our concise respiratory panel, which tests four viruses simultaneously: SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and B, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), all for less than many Covid-19 tests alone. PCR. This is an excellent example of how our technology can be applied to reduce costs and provide better access to healthcare.
What do your products do? How does it work?
The foundation of PRL is based on laboratory automation. Since it was founded in 2020, PRL has taken its pipeline and operational efficiency to new levels. Our New York lab alone now has a daily testing capacity of 50,000 tests, with most results delivered in less than 24 hours. The extraordinary volume of processing and delivery times are one of the key reasons why we have become the leading Covid-19 testing partner in the city.
In addition to our high-throughput diagnostic capability for Covid-19, PRL has developed a non-diagnostic sequencing workflow for rapid variant detection and monitoring. PRL was often the first to identify troubling variants in New York. For example, PRL first identified Beta and Omicron variants in New York State, giving the area vital time to develop a robust public health response. With this foundation of success in place, we are excited to expand our capabilities to support new disease testing.
Is it your first startup in the healthcare sector? What is your background in healthcare?
I am the CEO of Opentrons Labworks, which wholly owns and manages four business units, including PRL. Opentrons provides researchers with low-cost, flexible and easy-to-use laboratory equipment to automate repetitive manual R&D tasks, enabling them with open source technology to simplify laboratory processes. After Covid-19 began to take hold around the world two years ago, the team and I saw how Opentrons automation could be used to support New York City’s healthcare response and, thus, Pandemic Response was born. Lab. Similar to how Opentrons expands access to laboratory automation, PRL expands access to testing.
I also had the opportunity to serve on the board of directors of Genspace, a community biology lab that offers STEAM education programs for people of all backgrounds. Genspace is helping to nurture and educate the next wave of researchers, a cause I strongly identify with.
Who is your customer? How is revenue generated?
The PRL model is incredibly scalable and flexible to meet the needs of different organizations and industries. Since 2020, PRL’s leadership team has developed strategic partnerships to expand testing beyond conventional healthcare facilities to safely begin the reopening of the economy. This included testing at JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport, within the aged care sector, the entertainment industry, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing sectors, and private employers. These strategic partnerships play a vital role in our ability to expand our capacity and fund the research and development of our expanded offerings.
Who are your key investors?
PRL and Opentrons are supported by numerous investors. Most recently, Opentrons and PRL closed a $ 200 million funding round from Softbank Group Corp in September 2021. In addition to Softbank, we are also funded by Khosla Ventures and Sands Capital.
Do you have clinical validation for your product?
PRL has established three CLIA laboratories across the country and through these laboratories has offered Covid-19 testing as approved by their respective state (or district) regulatory bodies. Our PRL-SCV2 test has received approval from the New York State Department of Health, a regulatory body believed to have some of the most stringent laboratory assessments in the United States
Additionally, our Rockville, Maryland lab just received CAP accreditation and we have applied for and expect to receive the same accreditation for our Long Island City, New York lab as well. Ensuring the highest standard of quality and compliance is at the heart of our mission and we continue to work with regulatory bodies to improve public health outcomes.
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