Ceres Nanosciences Expands Footprint, Capabilities with New Manufacturing Plant
A new 12,000-square-foot Advanced Particle Manufacturing Plant in Prince William County’s Innovation Park will allow Ceres Nanosciences to boost production of its Nanotrap particles technology.
The Ceres Nanotrap technology provides powerful bio-marker capture and bio-fluid sample processing capabilities for a wide array of diagnostic applications and sample handling needs. Ross Dunlap, chief executive officer of Manassas-based Ceres, told BioBuzz that the company’s new facility will be able to generate Ceres’ Nanotrap Magnetic Virus particles that will enable more than 10 million COVID-19 tests per month.
The company’s Nanotrap particles are able to capture many different types of viruses and improve diagnostic testing for these viruses, including COVID-19. The technology detects low counts of different proteins, bacterium, and viral agents from biofluid samples, such as blood, saliva, and urine.
“Really, it’s a versatile program,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap called the new facility a step up in capacity for Ceres. He said it provides Ceres the ability to rapidly respond to virus outbreaks and testing needs. Not only can the Nanotrap technology detect the proteins and viral particles from fluids taken from a patient, but Dunlap also said the company is working on protocols to test wastewater for signs of a potential outbreak of COVID-19 or other potential viral threats. By testing wastewater for the minute traces of the viruses, Dunlap said they can determine an outbreak long before patients begin to show up in clinics.
“There are some really cool opportunities in pandemic preparedness,” he said.
The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) developed a method using Nanotrap particles that is 20 times faster than other methods and can detect as few as one case in a building, Dunlap said. UCSD is testing more than 100 buildings on campus and is now offering the service to local elementary schools and daycares, he added. Current testing from UCSD showed detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in raw untreated wastewater correlated strongly with clinically reported cases by the county. The testing allowed for analytical models that enabled prediction of newly reported cases up to three weeks in advance.
The Ceres Nanotrap technology was invented at George Mason University with financial assistance from the National Institutes of Health. Not only has the company been supported by the NIH, but it is also backed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Before the Nanoparticle technology was aimed at COVID-19 diagnostics, the company carved out space in Lyme disease diagnostics. Company researchers were able to capture low counts of the antigen from urine samples, providing highly sensitive testing. Also, the Ceres technology can reduce the processing time of the samples.
The new Manassas facility was made possible through a $6.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative awarded in September 2020. NIH launched the RADx initiative to speed innovation in the development of technologies for COVID-19 testing.
The timeline from construction to opening the facility was quick, to say the least. Dunlap noted that from the time the site was selected to opening was approximately five months. Dunlap said that the product is expected to begin rolling out of the new facility by May and operating at full capacity by summer.
“We had a great team that was able to turn this around in about five months,” he said and added the company has not “missed a beat” despite the ongoing pandemic.
Ceres expects to increase its manufacturing capacity to supply Nanotrap particles for at least two million SARS-CoV-2 tests per week. Additionally, since Nanotrap Virus Particles also improve diagnostic testing for influenza virus and RSV, this scale-up is expected to support multiplexed testing of respiratory viruses during this winter’s flu season.
Dunlap said his team has been excited to be part of the industry-wide response in meeting the global pandemic’s challenges and supporting the demand for fast and accurate testing in the United States.
While the company will increase the production of its technology, Dunlap said internal forecasts show they will likely need additional manufacturing capabilities within the next few years. The new facility adds to the already 10,000 square-feet of space Ceres currently occupied. Not only will the new space allow the company to meet challenges related to COVID-19, Dunlap said it will help them meet goals set through existing partnerships.
Dunlap said the company’s manufacturing was strained due to demands for its Nanotrap technology, and the NIH funding and space came at the right time. The new Manassas facility will permit the company to increase the production of the Nanotrap technology. It will also allow it to grow its headcount. Dunlap said the company is hiring 50 more people on top of its 24-person team.