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Collision from Home Panel Recap: Berkeley Lights CEO Dr. Eric Hobbs Talks COVID-19 Antibody Discovery

Collision, North America’s fastest growing annual tech conference, brings Fortune 500 companies, groundbreaking startups, and world-class speakers to Toronto for a series of panel discussions and presentations around the latest technological innovations. The conference is attended by over 32,000 tech leaders and professionals from 140 countries. This year, due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Collision held a live-streamed version of the event: Collision from Home.

Berkeley Lights CEO Eric Hobbs, Ph.D., participated in the virtual event as a panelist alongside epidemiologist Mark Stibich, Ph.D. of Xenex to discuss how the two companies are “taking today’s technology to task” to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The panel was moderated by Paul Nuki of The Daily Telegraph and was watched by over 2,000 live viewers.

Hobbs discussed how Berkeley Lights’ technology helps researchers accelerate antibody discovery and, ultimately, once the right neutralizing antibodies are discovered, the commercialization of antibody therapeutics and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

“[The Berkeley Lights Platform allows our customers to] take in blood from recovering patients or cells from immunized animals, perform a variety of functional tests, and deeply characterize those cells,” said Hobbs. “Within 10 hours of starting this protocol, [our Platform] begins to export the top therapeutic candidates for our customers.”

Berkeley Lights has been working with academic and commercial institutions from around the world to discover antibodies from COVID-19 patient samples that could be used to develop therapeutics. Hobbs pointed out that typical antibody discovery campaigns can take upward of 90 days but take only 10–24 hours with the Berkeley Lights Platform.

This drastically reduced discovery timeline allowed Genscript Biotech Corporation to be one of the first companies to discover antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. In addition, “[i]n March, working with the U.S. Department of Defense and Vanderbilt University, we found over 500 antibody therapeutic candidates from recovering patients’ blood samples.” Beyond antibody discovery, Berkeley Lights has also been collaborating with the University of Queensland to accelerate the rate at which cells can manufacture vaccines, which will increase the number of therapeutics and vaccines available in the future.

Hobbs explained how Berkeley Lights’ optofluidic technology, which combines the power of optics and microfluidics, allows customers to quickly discover antibodies in cells. “Essentially, we grab individual cells with light and move them into tiny chambers called NanoPen™ [chambers] in which we can rapidly detect the secretion of antibodies. This is [one of the reasons] why our system works so quickly—we shrunk the control volume around the cells so that we can make the measurements in a shorter time period.”

Hobbs noted that the Berkeley Lights Platform can accelerate the discovery of neutralizing antibodies so that the industry can find a treatment to COVID-19. In the long term, the technology could enable faster therapeutic responses to other emerging pathogens. Now more than ever, Hobbs explained, the speed at which we respond to emerging pathogens is crucial—and the Berkeley Lights’ Platform could serve as a key enabler in that effort.


“We need to create a global working environment  where these systems are deployed around the world so that we can have a more rapid, localized response to these kinds of epidemics in the future,” said Hobbs. “It will be easy to relax after we are past  this pandemic in the near future, but what we should really do is put the infrastructure in place to magnify or change our approach, so if an outbreak does happen again, we can respond to it much faster.”

You can watch the entire Collision from Home panel discussion here: