There’s a green bonus: GenVault’s new storage systems can reduce a clinical laboratory’s carbon footprint
Innovative laboratory technologies continue to disrupt the status quo as new products and services enter the marketplace. Among them is new dry-storage technology from Carlsbad, California-based GenVault Corp. that allows biological specimens to be stored at room temperature. It is a technology that has applications for medical laboratories and pathology groups.
GenVault is targeting what it says is a $4.5 billion market for sample transport and storage. It is developing a range of technologies to support nucleic acid storage and biomarker storage at ambient temperatures. At the same, time the company catches the “green wave” because its products not only reduce the cost for storage space and electricity, but also lessens a laboratory’s carbon footprint.
One GenVault dry-storage unit costs $1,200 and holds as many samples as the average lab freezer, which costs about $15,000, plus $1,000 annually for electricity and equals the annual carbon footprint of five automobiles. GenVault says its storage systems may also eliminate the risk of losing years of research or DNA samples due to a power failure.
The company is marketing two bio-storage products. One is a chemically treated paper that preserves bits of whole DNA samples, such as blood or spit. The other is a salt-like mineral matrix that preserves purified DNA. Specimens can be bio-banked at room temperature and examined at will using a reagent to separate the DNA sample from paper storage or water from the matrix. Each sample is assigned a unique bar code for identification and tracking.
GenVault is also testing a sponge-like collection device that can be used in epidemiological research or field studies. This device is getting a test drive by academic researchers studying the spread of HIV in remote African villages, where electricity is unavailable. Another test is under way in New Guinea where a group of researchers are using the device to collect blood samples from sick birds.
Use of genomic analysis in diagnosing disease, scientific research and forensic criminal investigations has increased as advances in DNA sequencing and informatics make gene decoding and matching ever quicker and less expensive. The RAND Corp., a private research and analysis think tank based in Santa Monica, California, estimates that 20 million tissue samples are added to lab freezers annually. This runs up the cost for cold storage, which is estimated to contain about 307 million specimens nationally.
GenVault CEO David Wellis says his company has raised $32 million in venture capital to develop dry storage products. The company has competitors: San Diego startup Biomatrica offers a shrink-wrap technology that preserves DNA at room temperature for up to three years. Qiagen (NASDAQ: QGEN), a Dutch company familiar to many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers, has racked up $900 million in sales since launching its ambient storage technology earlier this year.
But competition isn’t GenVault’s main worry. According to Wellis, the biggest challenge is convincing skeptical researchers of the technology’s long-term storage viability. The scientific community is holding out for a real-life demonstration. Since the technology has only been available about 18 months, that will require additional time.
Meanwhile, the company has managed to convince 150 laboratory customers to leverage the technology for DNA storage with preliminary tests. GenVault used its reagents to recover DNA from 20-year-old blood samples on neonatal screening cards. In another demonstration, it accelerated the aging of specimens to show its mineral matrix can preserve samples for up to 29 years. Current clients include the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Genome Québec, Amgen Inc. (Nasdaq: AMGN) and other pharmaceutical companies, medical centers, academic institutions, law enforcement agencies, and reportedly a soon-to-be-announced major diagnostic lab customer.
Clinical laboratories and research facilities can’t completely deep six their specimen storage freezers yet, as GenVault’s technology doesn’t work for living cells and certain other types of lab specimens. The company, however, is working on technology to accommodate ambient storage of proteins and RNA to offer customers a comprehensive storage solution.