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Antibody test puts Rochester at forefront of tracking COVID-19 immunity

Imanis is one of the first companies to hit the commercial market.

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
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How immune are you?

That’s the question developers of a new COVID-19 antibody test or assay hope to answer for patients and doctors.

Imanis Life Sciences , with the help of affiliate Vyriad, started working on its Immuno-Cov test in February, in collaboration with Regeneron and Mayo Clinic . Imanis and Vyriad, founded by Mayo Clinic researchers Dr. Stephen Russell and Dr. Kah-Whye Peng, share lab space in the Rochester Technology (former IBM) Campus .

RELATED: Already had COVID-19? What to look out for, and why to wear a mask

While Imanis and Vyriad are focused on cancer treatment, they use viruses to combat it. That means viruses and vaccines are at the core of their collective knowledge.

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“We were able to move pretty dang quickly, because this is in our wheelhouse. It was all hands on deck, and they built it in rapid time,” said Imanis Chief Commercial Officer Michael Herbert.

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Imanis Chief Commercial Officer Michael Herbert. (Contributed photo)

While the core test has been in use for a while, Imanis started processing patient samples in its growing labs on Monday, with a recently updated commercial, doctor-ordered version of the Immuno-Cov test. It costs $300.

Compared to standard COVID-19 antibody tests, this one provides much more precise information for patients and doctors to track immunity to the virus.

While all antibodies can identify the virus, only neutralizing antibodies can actually block the virus from entering cells to prevent infection. Immuno-Cov identifies and tallies the neutralizing antibodies in a measurement called a titer.

A follow-up test will then show how many neutralizing antibodies the patient still has weeks or months later. This will help track how immune a recovered COVID-19 patient is, as well as track the effectiveness of the coming vaccines.

It can also easily be adapted to track other SARS viruses that could follow COVID-19.

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“When Steve (Russell) got everybody together in February, he told them that ‘Neutralizing antibodies are the thing,’ ” Herbert said.

Now the Imanis team, which has processed thousands of research samples to verify the test, is geared up to process more than 1,000 tests a day. That capacity will grow to an estimated 2,000 to 2,500, once the current 20,000-square-foot expansion of the Rochester labs is complete.

All of this means the Northwest Rochester biotech facility, which was already growing before the pandemic, is now booming.

“We’ve near tripled the number of Imanis/Vyriad employees in the past year to about 60. About 15 to 20 are dedicated to Immuno-Cov,” Herbert said, adding that the Immuno-Cov team will grow by about 10 more, no matter the volume of samples coming in.

Imanis is not the only company with an antibody test like this. But they are one of the first ones to hit the commercial market, with one by Siemens Healthineers also coming out this month.

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanis Life Sciences in Northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Herbert said the team of Imanis, Vyriad, Regeneron and Mayo Clinic researchers led by Russell and Peng is enthusiastic about the expertise they can focus on this, while expanding here.

“We all agree that we want Rochester, Minn., to be on the map for understanding neutralizing antibodies and be the global standard of how to get that done in this pandemic,” he said. “The commitment to Rochester is not just lip service.”

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Principal scientist Rianna Vandergaast demonstrates how plate readers measure luminescence for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanis Life Sciences in Northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Research assistant Chase Lathrum prepares control samples for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Principal scientist Rianna Vandergaast prepares control samples for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Imanis Life Science staff is pictured wearing masks at the entrance of Vyriad on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanis Life Sciences in Northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Principal scientist Rianna Vandergaast prepares control samples for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Control samples are prepared for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Research assistant Chase Lathrum prepares control samples for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in Northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Imanis Life Science staff is pictured wearing masks at the entrance of Vyriad on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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Research assistant Chase Lathrum prepares control samples alongside principal scientist Rianna Vandergaast for antibody testing on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at Imanius Life Sciences in northwest Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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