The Ripple Effect of COVID-19 Testing

December 02 2020

Testing is an important part of ensuring that we can work, study, and socialize together again. If organizations can quickly identify infected employees or students, they can potentially stop an outbreak before it begins, protecting both themselves and the surrounding community. 

Dr. Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, saw an opportunity to use the company’s expertise to provide COVID-19 testing at scale. Ginkgo is a synthetic biology company that aims to “make biology easier to engineer.” Over the past 12 years, the company has significantly built up its capabilities in DNA sequencing and in automation: two technologies that are also important in developing a large-scale testing platform. That’s why the company launched Concentric by Ginkgo in June and redirected its existing technology to aid testing efforts.

Jason sat down with Greg Fleming, CEO of Rockefeller Capital Management, to talk about his vision for large-scale testing and the role Concentric can play in managing the pandemic. Below is a sneak peek at the conversation. Listen to the full discussion on the Rockefeller Client Insights podcast.

Decisions Driven by Data

In order to develop effective strategies, organizations can’t go in blind. “Mayors, CEOs and university leaders are trying to make decisions based on data,” says Jason. “They need to know what’s going on within populations of students or employees so they can prevent an outbreak. That’s where testing needs to come in, to provide that visibility.” Concentric’s goal is to make on-site testing more widely available and cost-effective so organizations can perform large amounts of testing when they need it.

The range of testing options can be overwhelming and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Epidemiological models can guide testing strategies based on an organization’s unique factors, such as size, geographic location, and risk level. These tools can help provide organizations with the knowledge to design a plan that works best for them.

Protecting Schools, Workplaces, and Entire Communities

By identifying COVID cases early, schools and workplaces can help prevent outbreaks within their wider communities. This is both a social good and good business sense. “Companies have an important relationship with their cities,” says Jason.

It’s also a crucial step in keeping companies and schools open. “If a university can set up a data-backed program that routinely tests different people on campus, they can catch cases early and isolate individuals while the rest of the organization keeps operating.” As the world waits for vaccines, widespread testing can help limit the impact of COVID-19 so we can carry on with our everyday lives.

Harnessing The Power of Biology

Ginkgo’s vision is to program DNA in the same way we program computers. “We’re moving away from the era of programming computers to the era of programming biology,” says Jason. “People don’t realize there’s more nanotechnology being used in your houseplant than in your iPhone.”

Jason believes biotechnology can provide new solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. “The magnitude of the problem we’re facing is huge,” says Jason, “and we have to keep pushing the limits of biotechnology to make sure that a complete shock to our healthcare and economic systems like we’re seeing now does not happen again.”

Overcoming these obstacles won’t be easy, but biotechnology can help us meet the challenge, says Jason. “For the first time, the world has a common enemy and it’s in everyone’s best interest to defeat it.”


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