U of M alumni engaged in detecting coronavirus
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This article was published 12/02/2021 (715 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A bioinformation services company run by a trio of University of Manitoba science alumni has been instrumental in bringing same-day COVID-19 tests of asymptomatic individuals to the province.
Intrinsic Analytics, located on Taché Avenue at the Asper Institute on the St. Boniface Hospital campus, pivoted its lab services last spring to include RT-PCR assays of the coronavirus – the gold standard for such tests, according to the doctors who formed the company in 2012.
“We focus on individuals who may spread the virus unknowingly, such as asymptomatic and pre-symtomatic people, in order to detect the virus and limit its spread in workplaces or to the community,” Dr. Waylon Hunt said.
“This is different than the testing done by the provincial health system, which tests people who have symptoms already.”
The company’s CEO, Hunt has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics. Dr. Ryan Mitchell is the company’s chief analytics officer, and has a bachelor’s degree with honours in microbiology and a PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics. Dr. Jon-Jon Santiago is the company’s chief scientific officer and has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s and doctorate in cardiovascular physiology.
Employers with workers who are required to travel, such as the trucking or aviation industries, or those who want to demonstrate the success of health and safety protocols at work, are among the company’s clients, as are employers in the film industry who want to ensure their crews are healthy to work.
“We handle collection, transportation, the lab work and get the results out in six hours,” Hunt said, adding that while it’s expensive to get a test, the public has also been booking individual coronavirus tests.
The company collects and processes samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The COVID-19 test specimens can either be collected on-site at an employer’s place of business, or at an employee’s house or hotel.
“We also have a quick way to detect any variant in the virus,” Santiago said, referring to the COVID-19 variants that have begun showing up in Canada and Manitoba.
“Once we get a positive test result, we send the information back to the province’s Health Links for confirmation. That way, the person is brought into the health system for treatment.”
Another area of focus for the company is validation studies involving coronavirus protocols, devices and sanitization agents. Research is conducted in the company’s Level 2 biosafety lab, Santiago said.
The three doctors have worked hard to ensure their company has an excellent reputation. The trio first met as lab partners or while doing graduate-level training while they were at the university.
“Waylon was my lab partner in bio-chem, and we did our undergraduate degrees together,” Santiago said. “Waylon met Ryan when they were taking courses together and in the same department at Health Sciences Centre.”
“I was working as a banker for many years, but I wanted to go back to school as an adult,” Hunt said. “I knew a lot about customer service. We’d complain about the terrible service we were getting from medical supply and medical device companies in spite of the high cost of items required in the lab.”
The trio sat down over beer and pizza and dreamed up a better way to offer drug and alcohol testing in the province.
“When we first started, there was a lot of misinformation about testing,” Hunt said. “We were using our science credentials for evidence-based testing, but we still had to spend a lot of time educating our clients about what we do here.”