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Seattle brothers expand billion-dollar biotech company's focus to include COVID

Akash Pasricha, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Adaptive is going after that problem by using chemistry and software to analyze the unique genetic codes that identify each type of T-cell.

T-cells replicate when they encounter a specific threat, Koelle said. They serve as "memory" to help the body respond better if ever it faces the same threat again. Analyzing which T-cells someone has can help uncover the diseases they have faced throughout their lives.

Microsoft, which invested $45 million in Adaptive in 2017, helps the company compare genetic codes found in blood samples with the hundreds of millions of other genetic codes Adaptive has on file. The project requires computing power similar to that of an entire internet search engine, said Peter Lee, a vice president at Microsoft.

"It's worse than looking for a needle in a haystack," Lee said. "What you're looking for is a pattern of whether certain straws of hay ... are in the shape of a tree."

Less than a year after the company went public in 2019, the coronavirus pandemic made the human immune system the center of attention. Adaptive, too, began pointing its infrastructure at COVID-19 and started accepting thousands of blood samples from almost every continent to analyze the T-cell immune response to the virus.

In March, the company received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its advanced test called "T-Detect COVID" which it says can detect current and prior infections for the disease. Adaptive also recently licensed technology to Norway-based Vaccibody to design vaccines that specifically target COVID-19 variants.

 

Adaptive's broader vision with COVID-19 is making sure America is establishing pandemic guidelines based on domestic data that includes not only antibody responses to vaccines but also T-cell responses, giving a fuller picture of the immune system adapts to coronavirus. Adaptive CEO Chad Robins pointed out the government is heavily relying on studies from Israel to make decisions around booster shots.

"Where [the government] spent a lot of time and effort funding vaccine development, we haven't systematically funded what the immune response is," Chad Robins said.

From Lego blocks to booster shots

Just thirteen months apart, Harlan and Chad Robins were "like twins," said their mother, Karen Robins. The boys grew up in Chicago and were avid Lego fans. Chad would point to photos of which structure he wanted, and big brother Harlan would make it for him.

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