Lessons learned: San Diego’s scientific impact beyond COVID-19

Feb 04, 2022 - Candela Delucchi

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its new variants, it’s no secret that San Diego companies have met the moment by developing new treatments, rapid-result testing solutions, and more aimed at getting us to a post-pandemic era. And whether leveraging new vaccine technology to honing cutting-edge research methods, San Diego companies are looking toward a future with COVID-19 out of the spotlight and opportunities for their innovation to help solve global challenges.

Revolutionizing 70-year-old-tech

Like the rest of us, San Diego life sciences companies have learned a lot from the past two years. COVID-19 has inspired homegrown giants like Cue Health, Quidel, and Biocept to race to provide reliable testing solutions—even for the NBA. As we inch closer toward a post-pandemic era, San Diego companies are taking what they learned throughout the pandemic and applying it to future diagnostics needs.

Take Pfizer, which became a global household name during the pandemic for good reason. The company quickly revolutionized the fight against COVID-19 with an effective vaccine that’s helped prevent serious illness and saved countless lives. 

Now eyeing more widespread applications, Pfizer recently began an international partnership with German biotech giant BioNTech to leverage its new RNA vaccine technology to create a more effective flu shot, more quickly. Pfizer plans to monitor surveillance data on flu strains and use information on those strains’ genes to synthetically produce corresponding RNA. When injected with the RNA vaccine, a person’s muscle cells will create proteins that stimulate the immune response.  

And where traditional flu shots can be a “game of prediction,” Pfizer’s tech means vaccines can be manufactured just eight days after the sequence of a new virus is first known, completely revolutionizing the lab to market timeline. 

Sequencing the future 

Next-generation sequencing has changed everything in the fight against COVID-19. From informing transmission tracking efforts to developing therapies to ensuring long-term global safety, San Diego companies were at the forefront of this innovation. Now, homegrown genomics giants are leveraging newfound research to inform health care and therapies beyond COVID-19. 

Chasing the $100 genome, Illumina’s sequencing technology has helped researchers from around the world identify virus transmission routes, monitor mutation rates, and act as a foundation for vaccines—using affordable, accessible tech. Illumina used its MiniSeq technology to sequence COVID-19 first, and is taking its coronavirus sequencing notes and applying it for broad detection of respiratory pathogens. 

In January 2022, Codex DNA released the synthetic genome of the highly muted and contagious Omicron variant. The company’s same sequencing technology is being used by scientists all over the world for precision medicine products, drug discovery, vaccine and therapeutic development, genome editing, and cell and gene therapy.

Advances in affordable and accessible DNA sequencing led by San Diego companies will ultimately help predict and prevent future outbreaks of different viruses around the globe, act as a foundation for rapid vaccine development, and accelerate targeted treatments.

Targeted treatments on tight timelines

Effectively preparing for future outbreaks, pandemics, or even regular illness means revolutionizing our drug treatment and discovery process. 

At the onset of COVID-19, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) scientists worked to give FDA-approved drugs a new purpose—by assessing 13,000 FDA-approved drugs that showed promise in treating COVID-19 to accelerate treatment times. Now, with a $10 million Department of Defense grant, SBP will lead a global collaboration to identify drugs that act as broad-spectrum antivirals for multiple respiratory diseases and could be rapidly repurposed for treatments.

More recently, Scripps Research launched the first human trial of an HIV vaccine using mRNA technology from the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The technology allows researchers to harness the speed of the existing vaccine’s clinical trials and block the spikes on the HIV virus so it can’t infect cells and spread throughout the body. 

When the world fell into crisis, San Diego companies came together to develop cutting-edge innovations, raise record-breaking VC, sequence new variants, and revolutionize modern-day medicine. And as we look towards the post-pandemic era, we’re seeing a future full of innovation we can only dream of: from low-cost benchtop genomic sequencing to radiopharmaceuticals to both diagnose and target cancer.

San Diego: You’re life-changing.

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