There is a global competition among pharmaceutical companies and research institutions to develop and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19, and San Benito County-based biotech company Teknova is part of that effort.
Teknova is in the business of helping a wide range of researchers develop medicines. The company makes products for 28,000 customers in 8,000 locations. In response to the demand for products related to research, development and/or detection of COVID-19, Teknova recently opened a dedicated channel to prioritize and expedite orders for COVID-19-related cell culture media or molecular biology buffers.
BenitoLink spoke with Stephen Gunstream, Teknova’s chief business officer, on March 24 about the work the company is doing to combat the spread of coronavirus. He said the company is a leading supplier of cell culture media and molecular-biology reagents.
“We make products for people doing everything from research on new drugs or pharmaceutical medicines,” Gunstream said. “We also support a number of companies that provide kits for traditional microbiology applications, as well as diagnostic testing.”
In other words, the company makes petri dishes, among other products, commonly used everywhere from high school biology classes to research hospitals.
Gunstream has been with Teknova only a few months. He said the employees inspire him when they come together to make things happen. In just one month, he said production related to COVID-19 research has increased more than 125% of expected demand.
Teknova accomplished this by expediting all COVID-19-related orders, at the cost of slowing down orders from academia. While they haven’t yet had to push to a 24-hour production cycle, some Teknova employees now work on weekends, and shifts have been staggered to meet social distancing requirements.
Because of COVID-19, the company’s 120 employees have been working almost nonstop to meet the demand for buffers to develop vaccines.
“We’ve seen an increase in orders for clinical-grade products to use in their trials,” he said. “On the other side is the backlog in testing, which has a lot to do with having the right products available to customers. When something like COVID-19 comes along, you have to scale up production to meet the demand, which wasn’t expected.”
Gunstream said half of Teknova’s customers are pharmaceutical biotech companies, while the remainder are life science companies that develop diagnostic kits.
“Three-quarters of our business goes to customers primarily in the Bay Area and Boston, which is where the pharmaceutical companies are,” he said. “That includes the CDC, universities, and clinical hospitals.”
Among such companies, he said Teknova is unique in that it can provide custom-designed buffers quickly.
“Someone sends us their recipe of what they want us to make and we can typically manufacture it for them in less than a week,” Gunstream said. “That’s really important now, as people are trying to come up with new ways to purify drugs.”
Companies that are producing diagnostic test kits that have gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization process need Teknova’s buffers included in each kit, Gunstream said.
“We’ve seen orders come in from customers that say they need buffers in the next two days so they can get their kits out the door to get tested,” he said. “Just in the last day or so, someone called and said they needed a lot of a particular buffer delivered by Monday. Normally, this would take us two or three weeks, but our team got together yesterday morning, we rearranged some schedules, and we’re going to ship it tomorrow. This is what this company does well.”