San Diego companies behind several major advances in the fight against COVID-19

Medical advances
Posted at 4:55 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 23:07:32-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- From treatments to testing, scientists in San Diego have been behind several major advances in the fight against COVID-19.

Perhaps no product is touching more lives than the vaccines, and in some ways, the historic pace of vaccine development got a head start with the help of San Diego-based Illumina.

“Suffice it to say, we wouldn't be shipping out vaccines to millions of individuals on a daily basis if it wasn't for our technology from the very beginning,” said Dr. Phil Febbo, the company’s chief medical officer.

In January 2020, Chinese scientists used an Illumina machine to uncover the very first genetic sequence of the virus.

Previously, discovering whole genome sequences took months, Febbo said, but Illumina’s technology helped the scientists complete the task in a matter of days, forming the blueprint for the first vaccines.

“The Moderna vaccine, that company never had live virus in their labs to develop their vaccine. What they had was the sequence,” Dr. Febbo said. “They just downloaded that sequence and they were off to the races.”

The genetic sequence allowed researchers around the world to begin the work of identifying existing drugs that might be repurposed to fight COVID-19, like remdesivir.

Now, Illumina sequencers play an outsized role in the genetic surveillance for variants. The company estimates that 75 percent of the sequences uploaded to GISAID, the leading database for viral genetic code, are from their machines.

“It's incredibly satisfying to see how our technology is really helping to fight this pandemic and indeed will contribute to ending this pandemic,” Dr. Febbo said.


Then there’s Eli Lilly and Company, the maker of the first authorized antibody therapy for COVID-19. The company now has an updated cocktail intended for variants.

The company is headquartered in Indianapolis, but scientists in their San Diego office led development of the neutralizing antibodies.

Eli Lilly’s cloned antibody treatments are for high-risk people shortly after infection and they’re keeping people out of the hospital. One clinical trial showed the monoclonal antibodies reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 70 percent.

As of this week, U.S. healthcare providers have received enough doses for 664,691 patients and counting.


San Diego is home to several of the leading COVID-19 testing manufacturers, including Genalyte, Mesa Biotech and Truvian Sciences. Hologic and Thermo Fisher Scientific are headquartered in other states but have a large presence in San Diego.

San Diego-based Quidel Corp. was the first company to get authorization for a rapid antigen test in May. The company shipped more than 50 million tests in 2020, according to CEO Douglas Bryant.

The rapid tests have been used to screen everyone from healthcare workers to NCAA athletes. The PAC-12 cited the company’s technology as a major factor in its decision to return to play.

“There’s nothing better for [a research and development] person to see that all the work that they've done actually ends up in a product that's used by people. It's a thrill,” Bryant said.

The company recently got approval for a 10-minute at-home test, a method of testing the Biden Administration says will be critical to getting life back to normal.