Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. expanded its Globalaccess Sequencing Program to include oncology laboratories in addition to research labs working on COVID-19 studies. The company will subsidize a limited number of Genexus systems to help pathology laboratories around the world that have faced significant constraints caused by the current pandemic to better serve cancer patients. The program will be available through the end of 2020.

Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher also has partnered with Lyell Immunopharma, of San Francisco, to develop manufacturing processes designed to create more effective cell therapies to benefit cancer patients. The companies initially will focus on improving the fitness of T cells.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the way laboratories function on a daily basis. For some, it has deeply impacted their ability to serve customers in circumstances where time is of the essence,” said Garret Hampton, president of clinical next-generation sequencing and oncology at Thermo Fisher. “At this unprecedented time, sustaining the momentum in oncology is paramount. Extending the benefits of Globalaccess to this community is a natural extension of our mission to enable our customers to help make the world healthier.”

The Globalaccess program began in May to help multi-institutional efforts aiming to map SARS-CoV-2 transmission and research groups conducting epidemiological studies. The program also now is open to pathology laboratories that already run or want to start sequencing samples with oncology assays. “Thermo Fisher has made up to 50 units of the Genexus system available under the Globalaccess program,” Andy Felton, vice president of product management for clinical next-generation sequencing and oncology at Thermo Fisher, told BioWorld.

The program is designed to be “very flexible” to increase access to the technology for qualified laboratories, said Felton. The company is also quickly rolling out several assays that can be used on the system.

“Thermo Fisher is developing a broad menu of diagnostic assays in oncology and other applications, including inherited disease and infectious disease applications, to run on the Genexus system,” Felton added. “In addition to the Oncomine Precision Assay, we are launching the Ion Torrent Oncomine Myeloid this quarter for oncology. Thermo Fisher also recently introduced the Ion Ampliseq SARS-CoV-2 Research Panel to enable rapid, automated NGS [next-generation sequencing] analysis of the complete SARS-CoV-2 genome.”

Thermo Fisher launched the Genexus system in November 2019. An almost entirely automated specimen-to-report NGS solution, the system returns results in one day and requires just five minutes of hands-on time. Its highly automated nature makes it suitable in lab settings observing social distancing. The system also requires minimal amounts of tissue for analysis and can cost-effectively process small batches, making it useful in smaller laboratories and hospitals.

The company envisions a “future in which local hospitals can adopt NGS testing in-house and [the Genexus System] sets the stage for molecular pathologists to eventually analyze NGS information in parallel with first-line testing modalities, such as immunohistochemistry.”

Lyell partnership

Thermo Fisher will be working with Lyell to create an integrated and flexible cGMP-compliant platform to increase the success of T cell-based therapies. The companies will develop reagents, consumables and instrumentation to improve the reliability and efficiency of the manufacturing process.

"Addressing critical fail points in the development and commercialization of cell therapies requires specialized technologies and capabilities that complement our own," said Elizabeth Homans, president, Lyell Immunopharma. "Thermo Fisher offers the ideal combination of cell manufacturing technologies and as-needed capacity to enable accelerated product development and growth."

"Significant investment is being put toward understanding T cell biology, and Lyell has put together an impressive team to accelerate research and development that benefits the entire industry," said Mark Stevenson, Thermo Fisher’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. "We're honored to join their effort, bringing complementary technology and capacity to make a difference for all patients who may benefit from cell therapies."

Financial performance

Thermo Fisher has weathered the pandemic better than many companies in the med-tech space. During the company’s July 22 earnings call, Marc Casper, Thermo Fisher’s CEO, president and chairman, noted that revenue increased 10% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, to $6.92 billion. Adjusted operating income was up 26% and earnings per share grew 28% to $3.89 per share in the quarter.

The company benefited substantially from a nimble response to the pandemic. “It was an exceptional quarter for us given the role we play in COVID-19 diagnostics,” said Casper. “We created a major business line in a few months and have continued to expand our capabilities.” COVID-19-related solutions accounted for about $1.3 billion of second quarter revenue.

Overall, the pharma and biotech division grew just under 10%, while the industrial and applied group declined about the same amount. Academic and government saw a 20% drop. The real story came from the diagnostics and health care division, which saw a marked drop resulting from delayed doctors’ visits and testing, but still posted growth of more than 70% in the quarter, thanks to development of proprietary diagnostic test kits, instrumentation, transport media and reagents for COVID-19 testing.

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