Pandemic Response Lab CEO discusses its approach to laboratory automation

Pandemic Response Lab CEO discusses its approach to laboratory automation


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Jon Brennan-Badal is the CEO of Pandemic Response Lab, which provides high throughput Covid-19 diagnostic testing to support New York City’s schools, health systems and communities. In response to emailed questions, he shared how the company is expanding its capabilities to target new disease areas and bridge the access gap many communities face when it comes to diagnostic services.

Why was the Pandemic Response Lab started?

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when cases began to soar, it became clear a rapidly scalable molecular testing model was critical to combating this virus. The Pandemic Response Lab was founded to fill this need. By leveraging our parent company Opentrons Labworks’ laboratory automation equipment, we are able to offer high throughput Covid-19 diagnostic testing to directly support New York City’s many schools, health systems and communities. In addition, our non-diagnostic genomic surveillance  capabilities are on the frontlines for detecting and tracking  future variants and ensuring our community can respond effectively to surges in cases. As Covid-19 begins to enter an endemic state, PRL is focused on expanding its capabilities to target new disease areas and bridge the access gap many communities face when it comes to diagnostic services.

Jon Badal

Jon Badal, Pandemic Response Lab

What specific need/problem are you seeking to address in healthcare?

Today, high testing costs and limited healthcare access are barriers for many populations to obtain vital health insights through diagnostic testing. As we’ve seen with the Covid-19 pandemic, this access disparity directly impacts our public health response to disease outbreaks and leads to even poorer health outcomes for our communities. PRL’s mission is to bridge this divide by providing fast and affordable diagnostic offerings for communities across the country. 

While PRL may have been born in the heart of the pandemic, our mission expands beyond Covid-19. With a successful foundation in place, PRL is now able to offer clinical laboratory services for a variety of diseases. Just this past month, we launched our concise respiratory panel, which simultaneously tests four viruses: SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and B, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), all at a cost lower than many Covid-19 only PCR tests. This is an excellent example of how our technology can be applied to lower costs and provide better access to healthcare.

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What does your product(s) do? How does it work?

PRL’s foundation is built on laboratory automation. Since it was founded in 2020, PRL has scaled its pipeline and operational efficiency to new heights. Our New York lab alone now has a daily test capacity of 50,000 tests, with most results delivered in under 24 hours. The extraordinary processing volume and turnaround time are one of the fundamental reasons we have become the city’s primary Covid-19 testing partner.

On top of our high throughput Covid-19 diagnostic capacity, PRL has developed a non-diagnostic sequencing workflow for rapid variant detection and tracking. PRL has often been the first to identify variants of concern in New York. For example, PRL first identified Beta and Omicron variants in New York State, providing the area with vital time to develop a robust public health response. With this successful bedrock in place, we are thrilled to expand our capabilities to support new disease testing. 

Is this your first healthcare startup? What’s your background in healthcare?

I am the CEO of Opentrons Labworks, which wholly owns and operates four business units including PRL. Opentrons provides low-cost, flexible, easy-to-use laboratory equipment for researchers to automate repetitive manual R&D operations, enabling them with open-source technology to streamline laboratory processes. After Covid-19 began to take hold of the world two years ago, the team and I saw how Opentrons’ automation could be used to support New York City’s health response, and thus, the Pandemic Response Lab came to be. Similar to how Opentrons expands access to laboratory automation, PRL expands access to testing. 

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I have also had the opportunity to sit on the board for Genspace, a community biology lab offering STEAM education programs for people of all backgrounds. Genspace is helping to cultivate and educate the next wave of researchers, a cause I closely identify with.

Who is your customer? How do you generate revenue?

PRL’s model is incredibly scalable and flexible to meet the needs of diverse organizations and sectors. Since 2020, PRL’s leadership team has developed strategic partnerships to expand testing beyond conventional healthcare settings to safely begin reopening the economy. That included testing at JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport, within the elder care sector, entertainment industry, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing sectors and private employers. These strategic partnerships play an integral role in our ability to scale our capacity and fund the research and development of our expanded offerings.

Who are your key investors?

PRL and Opentrons are supported by a number of investors. Most recently, Opentrons and PRL closed a $200 M funding round by Softbank Group Corp in September 2021. In addition to Softbank, we are also funded by Khosla Ventures and Sands Capital.

Do you have clinical validation for your product?

PRL has established three CLIA laboratories across the country and through those laboratories has offered Covid-19 testing as approved by the respective state (or district) regulatory bodies. Our PRL-SCV2 test has received approval from the New York State Department of Health, a regulatory body, which is considered to have some of  the most stringent lab evaluations in the U.S. 

In addition, our Rockville, Maryland lab has just received CAP-accreditation, and we have applied and expect to receive the same accreditation for our Long Island City, NY lab as well. Ensuring the highest standard of quality and compliance is at the core of our mission, and we continue to collaborate with regulatory bodies to improve public health outcomes.

Image: NicoElNino, Getty Images


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