Genomics health technology startup Color is doing its part to address the global COVID-19 pandemic, and has detailed the steps it’s taking to support expansion of testing efforts in a new blog post and letter from CEO Othman Laraki on Tuesday. The efforts include development of a high-throughput lab that can process as many as 10,000 tests per day, with a turnaround time of within 24 hours for reporting results to physicians. In order to provide the most benefit possible from the effort of standing this lab up, Color will also make the design, protocols and specifics of this lab available open-source to anyone else looking to establish high-capacity lab testing.
Color’s lab is also already nearly ready to begin processing samples — it’s going live “in the coming week,” according to Laraki. The Color team worked in tandem with MIT’s Broad Institute, as well as Harvard and Weill Cornell Medicine to develop its process and testing techniques that can allow for higher bandwidth results output versus standard, in-use methods.
The focus of Color’s efforts in making this happen have been on using automation wherever possible, and seeking techniques that source parts and components, including reagents, that can come from different supply chains. That’s actually a crucial ingredient to being able to ramp efforts at scale nationally and globally, because if everyone is using the same lab processing methods, you’re going to run up against a bottleneck pretty quickly in terms of supplies. Being able to process tens of thousands of tests per day is great on paper, but it means nothing if one ingredient you need to make that happen is also required by every other testing lab in the country.
Color has also made efforts to address COVID-19 response in two other key areas: testing for front-line and essential workers, and post-test follow-up and processing. To address the need for testing for those workers who continue to operate in public-facing roles despite the risks, Color has redirected its enterprise employee base to providing, in tandem with governments and employers, onsite clinical test administration, lab transportation and results reporting with patient physicians.
For its post-test workflow, Color is working to address the challenges reported by other clinicians and health officials around how difficult it is to be consistent and effective in following up on the results of tests, as well as next steps. So the company is opening up their own platform for doing so, which they’ve re-tooled in response to their experience to date, and making that available to any other COVID-19 testing labs for free use. These resources include test result reporting, guidelines and instructions for patients, follow-up questionnaires around contact tracing and support for how to reach out to potentially exposed individuals tied to a patient who tests positive.
To date, Color says that it has been able to operate at cost, in part backed by support by philanthropic public and private donations. The company is encouraging direct outreach via its email@example.com email in case anyone thinks they can contribute to or benefit from the project and the resources being made available.