COVID-19 News

LLNL broadens the range of its contributions to the fight against COVID-19

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) technology transfer team has opened up multiple fronts to aid the nation’s efforts against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

One San Francisco Bay Area company has developed a test to detect SARS-CoV-2 based on an LLNL technology, while a second Bay Area firm that has licensed an LLNL technology has gained approval for a product to diagnose COVID-19.

In addition, the office of the LLNL Deputy Director for Science and Technology has invested more than $1 million to develop a prototype ventilator and other technologies, and the lab’s Innovation and Partnerships Office (IPO) is granting royalty-free, non-exclusive licenses for LLNL technologies that could be used against the pandemic.

“Partnerships are integral to much of what we do at LLNL,” said Rich Rankin, the lab’s IPO director. “This reality is especially driven home when there is a crunch, when there’s a crying need for a science solution to a problem. We conduct long-term research for solutions to national problems, year in and year out, but LLNL shines when there’s a critical need for solutions to important challenges. That’s something within the DNA of the laboratory.”

In early May, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostics products, announced that its SARS-CoV-2 Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR) test kit had been granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The SARS-CoV-2 ddPCR test runs on Bio-Rad’s QX200 and QXDx ddPCR systems. The test is based on a technology that was licensed from LLNL more than 10 years ago.

The high sensitivity of the Bio-Rad test makes it better-suited than classical quantitative PCR tests for screening upper respiratory samples in patients with a low viral load, including individuals in the early stages of infection. The test also can play an important role in surveillance by detecting minimal residual disease in people recovering from COVID-19, informing them if they are negative for the virus. Bio-Rad’s single-well SARS-CoV-2 ddPCR test provides clinicians with a high degree of sensitivity that can significantly improve the accuracy of reported results.

Cepheid Inc., the other LLNL licensee that has received an EUA from the FDA for SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests, licensed a technology called rapid PCR thermocycling, integrating amplification and detection. Co-founded in 1996 by former LLNL researcher Allen Northrup, Cepheid developed detection technology that was used by Northrup Grumman after the 2001 anthrax attacks to screen mail for bacteria. It also was deployed for the detection of Ebola.

On a second front, the laboratory’s IPO has used more than $1 million of licensing and royalty money from lab licenses, to fund the development of a mechanical ventilator and research on other COVID-19-related technologies.

The LLNL mechanical ventilator’s design is derived from proven concepts and contains parts that are not being used by commercial ventilator manufacturers, to avoid disrupting already thin supply chains. The ventilator, branded as SuppleVent™, has received an EUA from the FDA and is the focus of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with North Carolina-based BioMedInnovations LLC. The CRADA was concluded in less than 10 days, once the deal’s scope was defined.

Another project under way with IPO funds, which are dispersed through the office of the lab’s Deputy Director for Science and Technology, is a diagnostic tool. LLNL biomedical researcher Larry Dugan is seeking to develop a simple, one-tube sample-to-result diagnostic to detect SARS-CoV-2 in oral and nasal samples in less than 60 minutes. This diagnostic would provide medical professionals and emergency responders with a non-invasive, highly sensitive detection tool.

On a third front, the IPO has identified LLNL technologies and capabilities that could be used by industry to respond to the crisis by making the technologies available under non-exclusive, royalty-free, time-limited licenses.

“The thought behind it is to help companies to evaluate a new technology for addressing an aspect of COVID-19 at a lower risk,” Rankin said. “As the crisis passes, the company can come and look at possible longer-term licenses.”

Rankin emphasized that IPO doesn’t only seek to build external partnerships with commercial ties, but to forge close partnerships with organizations within LLNL.

“During the latest pandemic, we are and have been working very closely with the Livermore Field Office of the Department of Energy, Legal, Engineering, Physical and Life Sciences, Global Security, the Chief Financial Officer, the Office of Classification and Export Control and others across the lab," Rankin said. “Each of these organizations are either conducting research or they ensure that our partnership agreements are sound. It is our desire to use technologies developed at LLNL to help protect the health and safety of people in this country and around the world.”

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See the list of LLNL technologies available for non-exclusive, royalty free licenses:

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