By Len Ramirez


REDWOOD CITY (KPIX 5) — A number of Bay Area biotech companies are working at the forefront of efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.

“All of these people are working on this mission impossible,” said Hesaam Esfandyarpour, the CEO of GenapSys in Redwood City.

The company is testing a new and portable electronic device for DNA sequencing. The device promises to quickly and accurately detect the sequence of the DNA of the novel coronavirus.

“DNA sequencing is effectively the process of reading the code of the DNA. You have the double helix DNA and the ATCG’s and you want to read what the makeup of the DNA is,” said Esfandyarpour.

GenapSys has shrunk the normally refrigerator size DNA sequencing devices into a new form factor that fits into a backpack.

It uses the power of modern microprocessors, instead of bulky optics or lasers, to electronically detect and analyze strains or mutations of the virus.

“It’s showing you molecular level information. Really detailed information on what’s going on,” explained Esfandyarpour. “And you can use that to develop vaccines and the treatment for that, and of course for screening and detection purposes.”

GenapSys is currently in talks with the Chinese Centers for Disease Control to have several devices shipped overseas to support emergency efforts on the ground there.

Meanwhile, doctors at UCSF are working with Mammoth Biosciences in South San Francisco to simplify the diagnostic test for novel coronavirus, which could soon be used in walk in clinics.

“We want to make it a single reaction that can be run in a tube and we want to make the read out similar to a urine pregnancy test where you have a color change to confirm whether or not a patient was infected,” said Dr. Charles Chiu.

The CDC has also now certified 16 state labs in California — including one in Richmond — to test for the novel coronavirus.

Until now, samples had to be sent to a lab in Atlanta, which could take a week to provide results. The new procedure could get results back to California doctors and patients in two days.

The California labs will be able to begin testing on Wednesday.

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