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Ginkgo, Quest Collaborate To Expand In-School COVID-19 Pooled Testing

By Allison Proffitt

May 7, 2021 | Ginkgo Bioworks has added a collaboration with Quest Diagnostics to its existing network of COVID-19 testing labs. Quest Diagnostics, has capacity to perform 300,000 COVID-19 PCR tests a day; the added capacity will give Ginkgo the capacity to test all 60 million students, teachers and staff nationwide, every week, said Matthew McKnight, the Chief Commercial Officer at Ginkgo Bioworks.

Ginkgo developed its Concentric by Ginkgo platform to provide easy start-up and operation for schools who want in-classroom COVID-19 testing. The Concentric platform features easy-to-use digital participant sign-up, secure data management, timely supplies shipments, integration of follow-up testing regimes, and fully-staffed support services.

Concentric currently serves about 1,000 schools across the United States. “We began working with schools in early January, and have continued adding more schools to the platform at a rapid pace ever since,” McKnight told Diagnostics World. “In January, we announced a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to provide pooled testing for Massachusetts K-12 schools, and most recently announced partnerships with Newark and Maine public schools in March and April.”

School testing is based on a testing roadmap for schools and cites provided by the Rockefeller Foundation in its K-12 National Testing Action Program: Connecting Schools with the Nation's Leading Testing Companies to Safely Reopen. The National Testing Action Program recommends pooled testing in K-12 environments, and Concentric facilitates such testing. Pooled testing combines nasal swabs from 5-25 consenting individuals in a classroom and runs them as a single sample. If a test comes back positive, that pool or cohort can respond accordingly. Pooled testing increases testing capacity and lowers the cost of testing programs.

Ginkgo also promises it is easy. “If a student can pick their nose, they can take this test,” the company promises. Most students—even kindergarteners—self-swab their own noses, so an entire classroom can gather samples simultaneously and in minutes. 

Since launching the school testing program, Concentric has tested 371,936 swabs, which translates to 41,548 pooled tubes, McKnight said. The National Testing Action Program recommends students get tested weekly and teachers tested bi-weekly. “We most often see students get tested on a weekly or more frequent basis depending on if they are on a sports team or if there’s a school break,” he added.

Close to Home

While the collaboration with Quest adds volume to Ginkgo’s testing capabilities, it also expands the geographic reach. The Quest network comprises approximately two dozen COVID-19 test performing laboratories for people in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia as well as Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Ginkgo’s existing network included 61 labs.

“On a national level, our collaboration with Quest ensures that communities across America will have the capacity and the know-how to test every student, every week,” said Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, in the announcement.

The Concentric platform doesn’t report test results to public health authorities. Because samples are pooled, individuals aren’t identified. But there are still great advantages to using local labs.

“We want to connect schools with nearby labs in order to maximize the resources of their local communities, as well as ensuring greater ease and speed of transferring and processing tests,” McKnight explained. Both Ginkgo and its lab partners share responsibility for business development activity, including sales and ongoing customer support, he added, maximizing community relationships.

Regardless of which labs process tests, the Ginkgo Concentric platform serves as the highly intuitive interface and data management system for all the schools. School administrators can easily implement a testing program that tests students, teachers and staff. The Ginkgo platform sends supplies and shipping materials to return samples, manages all confidential data, and returns results directly to the school.

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