Alphabet's Verily opens own lab to speed up COVID-19 testing

The buzzy life sciences company Verily is looking to speed up COVID testing with a new lab based at its native South San Francisco.

In a blog post, Verily, Alphabet's life sciences research arm and a sister company to Google, has set up its own CLIA-certified lab (i.e., it has clinical laboratory credentials) and used tech from Thermo Fisher Scientific’s‎ TaqPath test kit, which has an emergency use tag (EUA) from the FDA, to test for COVID-19.

It’s also sent off an EUA application for an adaptation of the TaqPath test for use in testing pooled patient specimens, which can further speed up testing. And it’s “verified” the Roche Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody test, which can assess if you’ve had the disease (rather than currently have it), with plans to “implement additional tests in our lab,” said Deb Hanks, M.D., lead pathologist at Verily, in the blog post.

The reasons for this move are two-fold: To speed up testing, which is still seeing many wait a week or more for results, and to help Verily’s own staff return to work.

“In response to the continued demand for testing, Verily has established a CLIA-certified lab at our South San Francisco headquarters to create additional lab capacity in support of programs in the COVID-19 testing space, including our own return-to-work efforts for our own employees,” it said in the blog post.

“The lab infrastructure is now up and running, and we have created a lab information system that will enable us to implement a strict chain of custody procedure for the specimens in our care.”

This also comes four months after Verily rolled out a COVID-19 screening tool for health systems and hospitals to help automate frontline response to the pandemic.

This follows similar moves from other tech companies, such as Amazon, which is setting up its own labs, although predominately to test its workers to have them return to the warehouses.

Capacity is one issue, but not as big as the shortages of critical ingredients and components for testing, from reagents to basic tubing, which is a global challenge that will not be easily or quickly resolved. Some are looking at creating new tech, such as tapping CRISPR to help create the next-gen of tests, though this is still being trialled.