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Industrial Tech + Life Science Tools
Rebecca Buckman  |  July 28, 2021
Helping Scientists Sequence the Covid-19 Genome—And Save Lives

In March 2020, the scientists and researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a globally recognized hub for genetic research based in the U.K., were faced with a daunting challenge: breaking down the genetic structure of the brand-new Covid-19 coronavirus, which was then beginning to spread rapidly around the globe. The institute’s scientists needed to move quickly to track the virus’s evolving variations, which would ultimately help create cutting-edge vaccines to slow its spread.

One key problem, though, was that the institute needed more specialized laboratory instruments to automate its pressing sequencing work, and to develop new protocols to process samples more quickly and effectively.

Coming to the institute’s aid was SPT Labtech*, a developer and manufacturer of cutting-edge equipment for liquid handling and sample preparation/management–and a company that just happened to be located just about 10 miles down the road from the institute’s campus in Hinxton, England, near Cambridge. Wellcome Sanger was already an SPT Labtech customer, but it needed more help from its vendor, quickly.

“Preparing a sample for sequencing is an inherently involved process that takes a lot of time—it takes hours,” noted SPT Labtech’s Head of Marketing James Smith. “And having automation is essential to achieve this at scale and pace.”

SPT Labtech moved to loan the institute some of its instruments and, later, supplied it with multiple batches of its dragonfly discovery reagent-dispensing system and mosquito low-volume pipetting equipment. SPT Labtech’s technology was especially valuable because it was supported by the robust supply of specialist pipetting consumables.  This enabled miniaturization of reactions and allowed Wellcome Sanger to reduce the use of costly and scarce critical chemical reagents.

SPT Labtech also does all its manufacturing in the U.K., so the company never faced the kind of global supply-chain disruptions that prevented some other scientific-equipment suppliers from meeting customer demand during the pandemic. Over the first 12 months of the collaboration, Wellcome Sanger used SPT Labtech’s technology to sequence tens of thousands of Covid-19 genomes each week, helping to inform scientists to enable them to manage a frightening and rapidly evolving global pandemic.

This was just one example where SPT Labtech aligned with leading global institutes and government departments to address the needs of ‘at-scale’ Covid-19 testing and research, including Public Health England in the UK and the NIH in the USA.

“We were extremely proud to be able to support and enable scientists globally to push the boundaries of research in such a challenging environment in a short amount of time,” said SPT’s vice-president of business development Joby Jenkins.


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*Denotes a past or present Battery portfolio company. For a full list of all Battery investments, please click here. Investments identified above are for illustrative purposes only.  No assumptions should be made that any investments identified above were or will be profitable. It should not be assumed that recommendations in the future will be profitable or equal the performance of the companies identified above.

Content obtained from third-party sources, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified as to its accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Battery Ventures has no obligation to update, modify or amend the content of this post nor notify its readers in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate.

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