A Montauk man is part of a team that pivoted a leading genetics research firm connected with the Mount Sinai Health System into a COVID-19 test provider and testing lab that was awarded a contract from Connecticut Monday.
Dan Clark is the general counsel for Sema4, a company founded by Eric Schadt that analyzes the data from genetic testing and merges it with clinical diagnostics. With the advent of COVID-19, and the resulting shutdowns, “People weren’t really going to the doctor,” Clark said Monday. “Our clinical products are ordered by doctors. If you are going to have a baby it is now standard care to get what is called a carrier screening.”
The genetic information and analysis produced by Sema4 is also used in the treatment of disease.
“If you have cancer, we do a whole exome screening on you,” Clark said, “so that we can understand what the drivers of your cancer are.”
But in the COVID-19 world, that market suddenly dried up. Sema4 has over 800 employees who were facing possible furlough.
“Our volumes were way down. We really didn’t want to be laying off people,” Clark said. “Seeing the epidemic around us, especially in the state of Connecticut, where we are based now, we wanted to help, because testing was such a vital issue at the beginning.” Clark said that it was clear that “quality testing with a fast-enough turnaround time” was critical in the fight against the disease.
“We realized we had a functioning genetics lab that was readily convertible to a RNA testing viral lab and will be convertible to an antibodies lab,” he said.
On Monday, Connecticut and Sema4 announced a partnership. Within the next few days, Sema4 expects to be supplying and analyzing 10,000 saliva tests a day, with results known within 24 hours. Faster turnaround time means knowledge: who is sick, who is not, and who is carrying the disease, Clark said.
“Everyone with a spare minute is working on the COVID testing, all aspects of it — from customer service to contracts to quality checking the tests themselves to receiving samples to bar coding samples,” he said.
Beyond its contract with Connecticut, Sema4 is also entering into contracts with major companies in New York that need assistance in creating back-to-work programs for laid off employees.
Sema4 is ramping up its capacity to perform COVID-19 antibody tests, as well, with a goal of 5000 a day by the end of June.
At the same time, the original genetic testing and analysis business is still going and is starting to pick up again.
Before COVID-19, Clark, an avid surfer, and his wife Heather split their time between Manhattan and a house they built in Montauk six years ago.
“We love this house. We love this community,” Clark said. “We always loved coming out here.”