When Eric Couch, president of InPro Technologies in Frederick, heard from a friend that a private sector coalition was looking for technology to decontaminate N95 respirators using UV light, he knew that he had to get on board.
InPro Technologies specializes in UV tech, supplying it to tech companies across the market. Couch said that since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the company has been looking for a way to help.
The company has been working for less than two weeks to develop a machine that would decontaminate N95 respirators so that they can be reused by healthcare professionals amid the nationwide shortage.
InPro only has five employees, but Couch has brought on many other people to help with the development of the machine.
“The best way I can describe it is as a roller coaster, there’s just something comes up several times each day and it’s something positive that gets you excited,” Couch said. “You figured out something that’s going to work, and you’re riding the high of the roller coaster and then you run into an obstacle.”
Another Frederick company hoping to help out during the COVID-19 pandemic is Velocidy Bio, one of the members of Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc.
Velocidy Bio is the exclusive distributor in the United States and Canada for Molecular Biology Systems, a Dutch company that created a machine that decreases the time it takes to run molecular tests, like the one currently used to test if someone has COVID-19.
The NEXTGENPCR, the machine Velocidy Bio sells for the Dutch company, can only be sold for research uses right now, said CEO Brian McNally. It has not gone through Food and Drug Administration approval.
That means it is not likely that the NEXTGENPCR could be used commercially to test the swabs taken to determine if someone was infected with SARS-CoV-2.
But if a research lab decides to buy a NEXTGENPCR machine, it could do its own validation, said Gert de Vos, CEO of MBS.
Both the FDA and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare have their own regulations for laboratory tests that allow laboratories to use machines, like the NEXTGENPCR, without FDA regulation for research purposes, McNally said.
Velocidy Bio and MBS think the NEXTGENPCR could provide a solution for some laboratories, even outside of applications for COVID-19.
The NEXTGENPCR can run tests much faster than the current machines used to run polymerase chain reactions, the current test for COVID-19 and a test often used in research. According to a press release from Velocidy Bio, the NEXTGENPCR machine could run COVID-19 tests in eight minutes compared to the hour the test currently takes.
It also has a higher throughput, de Vos said, which means the machines can run more tests.
There is currently one NEXTGENPCR machine in the United States, de Vos said.
One of the largest obstacles that InPro has faced so far is the process to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration. InPro was planning on sending its first fully functioning machine to New York City, the epicenter of the American outbreak. But in order to do that, they needed FDA approval.
While the FDA has fast-tracked some of its approval procedures during the pandemic, the process is still long and arduous, and one that Couch is not entirely familiar with.
“It’s probably our biggest foray into some sort of medical or life sciences type of product,” Couch said.
InPro has teamed up with a lab in Germantown which will allow them to do pathogen testing with a strain of the coronavirus to see if their product will deactivate the virus on N95 respirators.
While the process is complicated and expensive, Couch knows that InPro has to do its part in the fight against COVID-19.
“But in the end, we decided if we were able to get this one system out, and it prevented one inoculation of one of our healthcare workers, it would have been worth the price that we would have to pay as a small company,” Couch said.