Jeff Galvin, CEO of American Gene Technologies, has always made investing in his team and in the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) a top priority.
In the latest sign of the company’s commitment to its employees and the region, AGT recently announced the creation of a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified laboratory that actively provides RT-PCR testing for COVID-19.
AGT’s new COVID-19 testing capability provides cheaper, more convenient, and highly accurate same-day COVID-19 to its own staff and the general public. RT-PCR tests are the “Gold Standard” of COVID-19 tests; AGT’s testing program was designed to help its employees and staff from other local organizations return and stay safe in the workplace.
“It is my personal belief that the key to any successful business is people. AGT’s philosophy has always been to invest heavily in our team members to ensure that we can maximize their ability to be productive. We have a high standard for the people we allow to join our company, but we also provide an environment where they can not only meet our standards but also surprise us, ”said Galvin.
“We have always invested in great facilities and our CLIA lab is part of our commitment to our team and the surrounding community. Human beings react to environments and we want to create the best atmosphere to inspire innovation, ”he added. “People are what it’s about. I listen to our team. People need to feel heard and continually challenged so that they can jump with both feet. A big part of this is knowing that you are safe on the job.
When COVID-19 emerged, AGT, like many other businesses in the region, had to move most of its team to a virtual work environment. That is, everyone but essential staff who had to stay in the lab to move AGT’s advanced cell and gene therapy pipeline forward.
AGT has created strict security protocols to ensure the safety of its laboratory team and to protect its critical laboratory personnel. However, an employee reported possible exposure to COVID-19 and was subsequently discharged home.
“We said okay, go do an RT-PCR test, and if you’re negative, you can come back to the office. Well they passed the test quite easily but it took 14 days to get the result. So we paid this employee for two weeks because it was the right thing to do to reduce his stress level. The problem quickly became apparent: If we suspected exposure to COVID, we would lose a member of our team for an extended period of time, so we decided that doing internal testing was the right decision for our team and our business. Who better to start a COVID-19 testing lab than a company that truly understands the technology and the process? Galvin declared.
Galvin had previously spoken with Marc Elrich of Montgomery County, Maryland County Executive, about resolving the region’s COVID-19 testing issues. Galvin and Elrich both agreed that if one region could solve these COVID-19 testing issues, it was BHCR with its rich network of biopharmaceutical companies, government agencies and major research universities.
Galvin and AGT rose to the challenge and, after receiving CLIA certification, began testing their employees. AGT found that its test could get very accurate COVID-19 test results in as little as four hours. Eventually, the company increased its testing capacity to 1,000 tests per day. With just 40 employees, Galvin and his team realized they had more than enough testing capacity to offer molecular PCR testing to AGT employees and the public.
The CLIA certified lab testing process is modular and scalable up to 3000 tests per day or more. The test program deploys robotics to automate the process, reduce human input, increase processing speed, and virtually eliminate the risk of false results caused by human error. AGT’s testing capabilities are also fully mobile and can be deployed to offsite sites such as offices and mass test sites.
The testing program has been specially designed to efficiently and affordably meet any testing need, anywhere.
Existing 15-minute rapid COVID-19 tests have a false negative rate of 15%. To be fully confident in a negative result, a person would have to take the 15-minute rapid test twice, which would cost around $ 240. The AGT RT-PCR assay is much more sensitive and accurate because the AGT assay approach isolates and amplifies RNA before performing PCR. The AGT test costs less than a 15 minute quick test and provides very accurate results with just one test. AGT’s RT-PCR program offers a convenient, accurate and affordable testing option with much faster results than competing PCR testing options.
The CLIA-lab certification process is rigorous and involved. AGT passed certification seamlessly and quickly due to its existing expertise in molecular diagnostic tools and quality control infrastructure.
Once the CLIA lab and testing capabilities were up and running at AGT, the company began reaching out to the community, reaching out to physicians and testing service providers who needed same-day test results at a lower cost. To facilitate consumer testing, the company created an online system for appointments and other testing facilitation needs. AGT implemented this testing capability in about a month; the CLIA-certified laboratory was operational in mid-January 2021. AGT continued to develop its network of partner clinics.
Marketer Luke Williams has led AGT’s COVID-19 testing community outreach efforts.
“There is currently a dearth of rapid and affordable diagnostic tests. If clinics and community health organizations are ready to step in, we can make same-day RT-PCR testing the standard for COVID-19 testing in the DC metro area, ”Williams said.
“We are looking for partnerships wherever we can make a difference. For example, one of our clients works with diplomats in Washington DC who are not covered by CARES law or insurance and need quick access to RT-PCR test results for international travel. “Rapid” testing is not enough. There are also a number of clinics in the Washington DC metro area that work closely with the HIV community; Offering our tests to their clients would provide an additional benefit, as all proceeds from our testing program will go to support our clinical HIV treatment program, ”said Williams.
All proceeds from AGT’s COVID-19 testing program will help fund the company’s leading therapeutic candidate, AGT103-T, a single-dose autologous cell therapy to cure HIV. The program is currently in phase I human trials.
“In an environment where diagnostic testing is dominated by large for-profit entities that return results in 2-5 days, we offer the high-end RT-PCR test with same-day results at a lower cost while supporting a good cause. We have dramatically improved the standard for COVID testing, so the sky is the limit as to who can benefit from our testing program, ”added Williams.
“Suppliers should really think about who they choose to do their testing. Choosing AGT for their tests is similar to donating to find cures for serious illnesses. The community is very important to us at AGT, and our testing program reflects that. It really is a win-win situation, ”said Sasha Whitaker, Digital Marketing & Communications, at AGT.
“If we can fill that line, we’ll help a thousand people a day,” Galvin explained. “I want people not to worry about coming to the office. Social contact is really important. People at home are overwhelmed and stressed. We want to get them back to a great work environment to do what they love, no matter where they work.
AGT’s environmental monitoring approach is ideal for organizations looking to safely bring their employees back to the workplace while reducing the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading inside the office.
“Our mission is to cure cancer and HIV and prevent death from disease. Our team will work on any idea, including COVID-19 testing, to create a better future for society, ”he added. “We have the best RT-PCR tests available. There is a lot of noise around COVID-19 testing, but our employees are regularly tested three times a week and walk around the office confident that they are not spreading COVID. They can go home on the weekends to their families feeling good too, ”said Galvin.
“We believe that our COVID-19 test can make a big contribution in this area. We can scale up to any testing need. That’s what can happen when you bring really smart, disciplined, and passionate people together in an organization – you can really change the world, ”Galvin explained.
Companies already using the RT-PCR test program
To learn more about AGT’s affordable RT-PCR test program, please contact:
Luke Williams at [email protected]
Steve has over 20 years of experience writing, branding, and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries including biopharmaceuticals, retirement homes, real estate. commercial, IT and renewable energies, among others. He is currently the Principal / Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, MD-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.