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Berkeley Lights Announces the Global Emerging Pathogen Antibody Discovery Consortium (GEPAD) to Attack COVID-19 and Other Viruses

EMERYVILLE, Calif., March 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Today Berkeley Lights, Inc., announced the Global Emerging Pathogen Antibody Discovery Consortium (GEPAD) with founding members Dr. James Crowe and Dr. Robert Carnahan at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. Erica Ollman Saphire at La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Dr. Frances Eun-Hyung Lee at Emory University with the aim to accelerate the discovery of neutralizing antibodies from patient blood samples. Processing precious blood samples and fragile cells can be challenging with traditional technologies. The consortium will leverage Berkeley Lights' Beacon platform for antibody discovery using the blood of recovering patients as the foundation for therapeutics, with COVID-19 as a first target.

While researchers around the world are quickly characterizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the ability to screen single B cells expressing a SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody remains a significant and time-consuming challenge. The body has billions of B cells. After a patient recovers from SAR-CoV-2, they generate many B cells specific for the virus; however, some B cells will make antibodies that just bind to the virus but are not protective. Hence, finding the special B cells that eliminate or neutralize the virus is exceedingly rare. It is like finding a "needle in a haystack". The existing technologies can only search for binders, not neutralizers – so researchers are forced to sequence and re-express the antibody from non-specific B cells wasting significant time and resources. The Beacon system and the viral neutralization assay is designed to address this problem by directly screening single cells for neutralizing function in a single day.

The primary goal of the GEPAD Consortium is to enable the quickest therapeutic response to emerging pathogens. The GEPAD Consortium is requesting that anyone interested in this viral neutralization workflow and advancing the state of the art reach out and join them in forming a defensive barrier worldwide against diseases caused by emerging pathogens. Members will be enabled to rapidly discover potential treatments using small volume blood samples from recovering patients—both acute and convalescent. The consortium is rapidly iterating and improving the viral neutralization workflow executing on the Berkeley Lights platform and hopes that more collaborators will come forward to participate in fighting this epidemic and be better prepared for the next one.

"We have long sought to study the antiviral capacity of antibodies secreted by single human B cells, but the instruments and protocols for doing those studies didn't exist. Partnering with Berkeley Lights on developing innovative approaches to this single-cell biology task is now becoming a reality," said Dr. James Crowe, MD, Director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.

"We have developed a specialized survival media for plasma cells and envision the use of it for rapid upfront selection of a rare target monoclonal antibody," said Dr. Lee. "Berkeley Lights together with this consortium will make this method a reality for COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies. We hope this helps in this pandemic to save lives."

"There's an opportunity here to quickly mobilize something that could protect frontline workers or treat those who have been infected," explained Dr. Saphire. "Vaccines aren't available yet. Providing some immediate immunity using antibodies could be lifesaving for those who haven't been vaccinated or can't be vaccinated, or if the eventual vaccines aren't completely protective."

"COVID-19 is a serious threat to our health, our way of life, and the world economy," said Dr. Eric Hobbs, CEO of Berkeley Lights. "We are committed to doing our part by developing assays and workflows that researchers and therapeutic developers can use to rapidly discover antibodies that are key to treatments." 

About Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is one of the nation's largest academic medical centers. As part of its research enterprise, in partnership with the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center is participating in the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Pandemic Protection Platform (P3) program, a five-year cooperative agreement to develop protective antibody treatments that can be rushed to health care providers within 60 days after the outbreak of viral diseases anywhere in the world.

About La Jolla Institute for Immunology
La Jolla Institute for Immunology is dedicated to understanding the intricacies and power of the immune system so that we may apply that knowledge to promote human health and prevent a wide range of diseases. Since its founding in 1988 as an independent, nonprofit research organization, the Institute has made numerous advances leading towards its goal: life without disease®.

About Emory University
Emory University is one of the world's leading research universities. Its mission is to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity. The Emory effort is led by Dr. Lee of the Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Division, The Lowance Center for Human Immunology and the Emory Vaccine Center.  She contributes culture methods developed in her lab that greatly improve the survival of B cells and plasma cells thereby facilitating the isolation of extremely  rare cells producing the antibodies of interest.  Dr. Lee's work is supported by NIH, the Lowance Center, Gates Foundation, and the Georgia Research Alliance.

About Berkeley Lights
Here at Berkeley Lights, we think cells are awesome! Cells are capable of manufacturing cures for diseases, fibers for clothing, energy in the form of biofuels, and food proteins for nutrition. So the question is, if nature is capable of manufacturing the products we need in a scalable way, why aren't we doing more of this? Well, the answer is that with the solutions available today, it is hard. It takes a long time to find the right cell for a specific job, costs lots of money, and if you have picked a suboptimal cell line, has a very low process yield. Berkeley Lights has the complete solution to find the best cells by functionally screening and recovering individual cells for antibody discovery, cell line development, T cell analysis, and synthetic biology. Our proprietary technology, including the Beacon® and Lightning™ platforms accelerate the rate you can discover and develop cell-based products in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of conventional, legacy research methods. Using our tools and solutions, scientists can find the best cells, the first time they look. For more information, visit www.berkeleylights.com.

Berkeley Lights' Beacon and Lightning systems and Culture Station instrument are:

For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.

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SOURCE Berkeley Lights