Pharmacy, Natural & Health Sciences

Outpacing a virus

Through genomic testing

From left: Stephanie Wheeler, Anna Langerveld and Nicole Heiberger behind the KingFisher instrument, used for viral RNA isolation in the first step to identify RNA that is found in COVID-19. Manchester’s Pharmacogenomics Program loaned the apparatus to Genemarkers through July until the company’s new equipment arrived.

Early warnings emerged last winter about the advancing threat of COVID-19 and its predicted spread into a global pandemic. Anna Langerveld, Ph.D., founding president and chief scientific officer of Genemarkers, LLC, knew personalized medicine was key to answering the imminent call to action.

Working in collaboration with Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., under the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization, Langerveld and her colleagues retooled their existing genomic testing services to develop and supply a test for nasal or oral swabs to detect the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to join the fight against this disease while doing what we do best,” Langerveld said.

Established by Langerveld in 2009 in Kalamazoo, Mich., Genemarkers partners with health-care providers and clinicians. Utilizing a personalized medicine approach through genomics, the company offers pharmaceutical research and clinical pharmacogenomics testing services.

A graduate of State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, Langerveld, went on to earn a doctorate in neuroscience from Tulane University. She serves on the advisory board of the pharmacogenomics program of Manchester University, the first program to offer a one-year master’s degree in pharmacogenomics. She has been a speaker for the program and also co-teaches a course in applied pharmacogenomics with Teresa Beam, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacogenomics at Manchester Pharmacy.

Not only was she fully prepared in the science behind viral testing, Langerveld also had geared up her lab with the addition of two technicians who earned their credentials in Manchester’s young pharmacogenomics graduate program. 

Manchester’s Master of Science in Pharmacogenomics Program alumni Stephanie Wheeler ’18 and Nicole Heiberger ’19 each advanced their careers in Genemarkers labs after earning their degrees. They had the knowledge and training that would prove necessary for the company’s rapid response to a growing national threat.

The team’s initial focus was to help skilled nursing facilities, such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, to meet Michigan testing mandates to test all residents and staff at these facilities weekly. In May, Genemarkers began building and supplying its test kits to the facilities and, by late June, its testing services began – offering results typically within 24 hours. In certain cases, samples can show inconclusive results. Those tests are re-run, said Wheeler, who supervises the laboratory, and may take up to 48 or 72 hours to confirm. 

“In our first week of testing, we ran 27 samples,” said Wheeler. “By the end of July, we ran over 3,000 tests a week and it has been ‘full-steam ahead’ since as we continue to ramp up our testing volume.” By August, Langerveld and her team were successfully providing COVID testing to more than 20 facilities in Michigan. The growing company also began hiring more staff and lab technicians to help meet the ever-increasing demands for statewide testing. Building on their success, Genemarkers entered an agreement with a major hospital system to assist them with testing samples. 

“Our goal is to be able to process from 5,000 to as many as 10,000 samples per week,” said Langerveld. “With the growth of our service capacity this summer, we are looking forward to providing our testing services this fall to Manchester University’s athletic programs.”