New ATDBio grant to improve oligonucleotide synthesis for COVID-19 tests

13 Apr 2021

ATDBio, a leader in complex oligonucleotide synthesis, has been awarded funding by Innovate UK to develop a new method for rapid, efficient and automatable production of large quantities of oligonucleotides for COVID-19 testing. The £168,130 grant, Improved oligonucleotide synthesis for faster, more accurate COVID-19 testing, will enable the company to develop and validate the new approach, which combines reducing the incidence of sequence mutations with an improved purification technology. The new protocol could increase yield and reduce the bottleneck of purification time significantly.

Over the course of the pandemic, ATDBio has invested significantly in equipment to increase its DNA manufacturing capacity more than 10-fold, recruiting extra staff and supplying oligonucleotides for tens of millions of tests.

Oligonucleotides are key reagents in COVID-19 testing, used in the common amplification methods – either LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) or qPCR (polymerase chain reaction, the current gold standard). Use of the LAMP assay has grown significantly because it is faster and can be performed on cheaper, simpler instrumentation than PCR. The huge need for COVID-19 testing has placed strain on the supply of the large volumes of high purity oligonucleotides needed.

Synthesising DNA on a massive scale for COVID-19 diagnostics, ATDBio designed the new approach to increase the efficiency of large scale production. It promises to reduce the incidence of incorrect sequences known as deletion mutations, and then improves and streamlines purification of these and other incorrect sequences. With potential for other infectious diseases and future pandemic preparedness, the new methodology will also be useful in other areas of ATDBio’s business, such as production of therapeutic oligonucleotides.

Dr Tom Brown Jnr, Chief Scientific Officer of ATDBio, said, 'Testing continues to be an important part of strategies to control COVID-19, meaning that rapid supply of high volume, high purity oligonucleotides is crucial. ATDBio is grateful to Innovate UK for its funding and recognition of the impact of our new methodology. The potential of our business has developed significantly during the pandemic, and we are pleased to have further support from the Innovate UK EDGE Scaleup Programme, which recognises companies with the potential for exponential growth.'