Few people outside of research circles know of Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit research and development organization. But this organization’s influence in many fields, including life sciences, is palpable. With a research budget in the several billion dollar range, the organization, which opened up in 1929 and traces its beginnings to industrialist Gordon Battelle, first focused on contract research and development bids supporting metals and materials science. Today, the impact of Battelle’s research impacts a range of sectors from basic science to the commercialization of life science-based therapies, diagnostics and laboratory testing. Active in the fight against COVID-19, Battelle continues to play a critical role in assessing COVID-19 vaccine candidates. For example, Battelle developed a microneutralization assay to analyze the neutralizing response against the virus in human serum samples. Based on a live SARS-CoV-2 virus, this assay is particularly suited for testing samples from vaccine clinical trials.
Go back a year and there were absolutely no assays that existed for SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. Battelle, along with myriad other public and private laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and others raced to develop methods for detecting both the virus and the antibodies to fight it in saliva, blood, and other body fluids.
As the pandemic raged the urgency to find solutions to COVID-19 accelerated not only the pace of drug development as evidenced by thousands of clinical trials and dozens of considerable breakthroughs targeting the pathogen—this progress has been facilitated by an acceleration of information sharing among research institutions such as Battelle.
The Product Funding
This microneutralization assay was made possible by funding from an existing National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases (NIAID) contract supporting not only associated process improvements and assay validation but also the sharing of the test with other contract research organizations supporting the federal response to COVID-19.
Importance of Such Assays?
Assays such as the one developed at Battelle contribute greatly to the fight against COVID-19. After all, they can help determine the presence, amount, or function of a substance in a sample—all critically important elements in ongoing COVID-19 research. For example, such assays are utilized in diagnostic technology to assess the effectiveness of potential therapeutics as well as to determine immune response to vaccine candidates.
According to a biologist employed at the Columbus, Ohio lab, Jennifer Garver, the intellectual property underpinnings were already in place as “The basis for the assay is from previous work we’ve done.”
Supporting the COVID-19 Research Mission
For this particular assay, Battelle researchers sought to identify an optimal way to achieve sensitive results with a readout that would take less time. They have in fact succeeded, apparently, and in the process have leveraged and reused the microneutralization assay to analyze Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical samples to support serum testing from several key vaccine sponsors.
One of Several Initiatives Targets COVID-19
As can be expected for a research center with multi-billion dollar budget, Battelle has many COVID-19 research irons in the fire as they contribute to the COVID-19 fight, including vaccine development, decontamination technologies, and even studies that evidence the persistence of the pathogen on library and museum materials.
The research organization developed SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing to support not only the state of Ohio surveillance, but has adopted an EUA saliva test to allow for evaluating saliva samples from Battelle staff in order to identify and isolate their critical support staff and maintain business continuity.
Duke University Partnership: Assay for BSL-2 Labs
Thanks to money made possible by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Battelle is also validating a pseudo virus assay developed at the prestigious North Carolina academic medical center.
Chris Cirimotich, a biologist with Battelle, shared in their press release recently, “The assay has the same principles as Battelle’s microneutralization assay but uses a surrogate virus form instead of the live SARS-CoV-2 virus.” Hence the biologist continued, “…it can be used in BSL-2 laboratories instead of high-containment BSL-3 laboratories, which can also potentially increase capacity.”
NIAID Vaccine Research Center Transfer
Battelle also reports it will take over an assay first developed at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center. This particular assay helps detect the antibodies produced after a COVID-19 vaccination that bind to the virus. Involving considerable automation, the Battelle team shares the benefit includes exposure to equipment and processes. Hence the team collaborates with equipment vendors to push for breakthroughs for better utilization of hardware and expand automated tests.
Every day, the people of Battelle apply science and technology to solving what matters most. At major technology centers and national laboratories around the world, Battelle conducts research and development, designs and manufactures products, and delivers critical services for government and commercial customers. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, since its founding in 1929, Battelle serves the national security, health and life sciences, and energy and environmental industries.