Kailos Genetics Launches COVID-19 Testing Program for Safe Workplaces

Kailos Genetics announces the launch of Assure Sentinel, a first-of-its-kind workplace viral suppression program that tests organizations for COVID-19 on a frequent and recurring basis.

The Assure Sentinel program reduces the challenges of COVID-19 testing in the workplace, according to a statement from Huntsville-based Kailos Genetics.

Samples are acquired using a painless saliva collection system, eliminating the need for nasopharyngeal swabs. Additionally, testing is performed with ViralPatch, the company’s proprietary viral capture and sample pooling methodology, and next generation DNA sequencing to decrease costs and increase testing sensitivity.

“Pooling dozens of samples together has been standard in blood banking for decades,” said Kailos Genetics CEO Brian Pollock. “The Assure Sentinel program is helping to suppress COVID-19 and returning people to the workplace.”

Regular COVID-19 testing can mean a reduction in employee anxiety and a rise in confidence and productivity.

“Safety is, and has always been, our number one priority during the pandemic, and the Assure Sentinel program is helping us continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees,” said Julia Michaux-Watkins, Director of Human Resources at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Kailos is offering the workplace testing program to companies, nonprofit organizations and schools directly and via partnerships with healthcare organizations. The first partnerships include Huntingdon College in Montgomery and HudsonAlpha.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Huntingdon College identified access to testing as a key element to our ability to responsibly reopen our campus to our students, faculty and staff for the fall,” said Jay Dorman, Treasurer and Senior Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Administration at Huntingdon College. “We have been fortunate to find an Alabama-based partner to provide a reasonably priced, efficient testing option, which has been critical in successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

Founded in 2010 and located at HudsonAlpha, Kailos Genetics is a genetic sequencing company that provides genetic and COVID-19 testing through partnerships with physicians, health systems and employers around the world.

Encompass Health to Build Rehabilitation Hospital; Moving from Governors Drive

There’s a healthy dose of dirt being moved on the east side of Chapman Mountain – and for good reason.

The Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of North Alabama will occupy the site at the intersection of U.S. 72 and Moores Mill Road. The hospital is expected to relocate from its facility on Governors Drive and begin serving patients in the spring of 2022

Encompass has served the Huntsville area at the Governors Drive location since May 1987. The hospital provides intensive rehabilitation services for patients recovering from strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputations and complex orthopedic conditions. 

The new inpatient facility will offer 76 private patient rooms, including four bariatric rooms and two isolations.

Other features include a spacious therapy gym featuring advanced rehabilitation technologies, an activities-of-daily-living suite, therapy courtyard, six-chair dialysis suite, dining room, in-house pharmacy and dayroom areas. 

 

Urgent Care for Children Opens Doors to Huntsville Clinic

The wait is over for Huntsville residents seeking access to pediatric care in the after-hours.

Urgent Care for Children, a Birmingham-based pediatric urgent care provider, opened its doors Thursday for patients ages 21 and under with minor illnesses and injuries.

The newest clinic, at 2785 Carl T. Jones Drive across from Valley Bend Shopping Center, operates  2-10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

“At Urgent Care for Children, our job is to complement your primary care pediatrician and offer an
affordable, convenient alternative to the emergency room,” said CEO Bannon Thorpe. “I believe we have one of the best medical teams in our field, who are consistently recognized and receive some of the highest patient ratings in the industry.

“It can mean a lot to have a pediatric specialist when you have a child not feeling well, and we are excited to bring convenient access to quality pediatric medical care to a new area of Huntsville.”

While the location will be new for the rapidly-growing company, it is not a stranger to Madison County.

“After opening our Madison clinic in September 2019, it quickly became apparent that there was a demand for us to expand our quality care services to (southeast) Huntsville,” said Neal Owens, vice president of real estate. “We selected Jones Valley based on its proximity to the growing community of families and schools.”

The after-hours clinic will also be offering coronavirus testing for children and adults. Since March, Urgent Care for Children has made COVID-19 testing available for everyone.

Visit www.childrensurgent.com.

HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Bioscience Companies Headline BIO Alabama Conference

With the biotechnology industry leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIO Alabama will host industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics at the organization’s first conference in five years.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a number of resident associate companies will be “center-stage” during the four-day virtual conference, Oct. 5-9.

BIO Alabama – Alabama’s affiliate of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the pre-eminent national association for biotechnology companies – has assembled a lineup from Alabama and across the country to address the industry’s most challenging issues and how the state can play pivotal roles in solutions and advancements.

Among the topics are: Operation Warp Speed; COVID-19 related legislation; the strategic roadmap for the state’s biotechnology ecosystem; collaborative efforts to strengthen the state’s agricultural economy; diversity, equity and inclusion in the bioscience industry; and discoveries by researchers at Alabama’s leading academic centers.

“HudsonAlpha has been a longtime partner and leader for BIO Alabama and the biotechnology ecosystem in North Alabama continues to bloom with innovative companies,” said BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson. “Our virtual conference is a great opportunity to connect with life science thought-leaders from around our state who are strengthening our industry for the future.”

The speakers are leaders in academic research, education and business. HudsonAlpha and Huntsville contribute greatly to the state’s work in the biosciences and are well-represented in the BIO Alabama agenda.

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz will lead a panel discussion that includes Dr. Josh Clevinger, also of HudsonAlpha; Brian Hardin with Alabama Farmers Federation; Kyle Bridgeforth of Bridgeforth Farms; and Dr. Kira Bowen from Auburn University.

The group will discuss its efforts in developing next generation crops for diversifying and strengthening Alabama’s agricultural economy. The panel will provide an early view into the way people from across the state and across industries are leveraging HudsonAlpha’s expertise in genomics research to improve crops for Alabama farmers and ultimately benefit businesses and consumers in the state.

Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha’s Vice President for Economic Development and past Chairman of BIO Alabama, will lead a “fireside chat” with Andrew Burnett, health legislative assistant for Sen. Richard Shelby. Burnett is Shelby’s aide for federal appropriations and policy on a variety of health-related topics, including coronavirus relief, clinical trials, diagnostic testing and the development of new medications and therapies. Burnett also works with biotech entrepreneurs and veterans of bioscience businesses.

HudsonAlpha Director of Recruitment Amy Sturdivant, BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King will deliver the BIO Alabama’s strategic plan. The address concludes a multi-year listening tour and focus-group exercises to develop a strategic roadmap for the industry. Sturdivant will join BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King in delivering the report to BIO Alabama constituents.

“Growing and supporting entrepreneurial efforts in the biotech industry have translated to success stories and expanding jobs in the sector,” said Sturdivant, who also serves as BIO Alabama vice chairwoman. “Organizations across the state are contributing and collaborating; providing resources for capital, mentoring, workforce training, and more.

“The BIO Alabama strategic plan lays out lessons learned and opportunities we will seek together.”

Alex Cate, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist for HudsonAlpha, will join panelists from the state’s top incubators and accelerators to discuss business growth and technology commercialization.

Additionally, several North Alabama-based and HudsonAlpha resident companies will be featured at the conference.

To register, visit https://www.bioalabama.com/event-3976946

 

Dr. Birx Urges State to Extend Mask Mandate

The statewide mask mandate issued by Gov. Kay Ivey is set to expire Friday.

Not so fast, if White House advisor Dr. Deborah Birx’s comments in Auburn this past week reached Montgomery.

During a Thursday visit to Auburn University, the doctor said Ivey’s mandate should be extended. 

“If you look at what happened within two weeks of the mask mandate,’’ Birx said, “you can see the dramatic decline in cases here in Alabama. We talked about the importance of keeping those mitigations strong through the fall to get through this fall together, to ensure that people are immunized for flu to really protect one another, keep the rates down, get the rates down even further.

“Alabama’s test positivity is really dropping, really improving, but we’ve got to do even more.’’

On her visit, Birx also denied television reports that she was “distressed’’ the direction the nation’s coronavirus task force was taking while she participated at an Auburn University roundtable.

A day earlier, local officials addressed the current state of the coronavirus at the week COVID-19 press briefing.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Madison County’s move from a high to moderate risk of spreading the virus was because of increased testing, principally at schools and nursing homes.

Hudson said when positive tests are found the patients are mostly asymptomatic and that hospitalizations are declining. Local officials feared a spike in cases following the Labor Day weekend and students returning to classrooms but it hasn’t happened.

“The public health measures are working,” she said. “There is no other valid reason for these stable numbers.”

Hudson also urged citizens to get a flu shot.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley encouraged people to support local restaurants Tuesday in lieu of the annual Taste of Huntsville, which has been cancelled.

The Huntsville-Madison County Hospitality Association is calling for an all-day “Dine on 9/29” celebration this year. “Dine on 9/29” calls on residents to enjoy socially distanced indoor dining, patio dining, take out, or delivery from restaurants.

He said anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable dining in should take advantage of curbside service.

“We all want (the restaurants) there when we come out of this,” Finley said.

Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell said the Alabama Department of Public Health is working on a plan to distribute a vaccine once one is ready. At that time, he added, local officials would meet for a second time to discuss the issue.

 

Contenders for 2020 Small Business of the Year Announced

More than 160 businesses and individuals are in contention for top honors at the 35th annual Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Small Business of the Year Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 20 event will be a virtual presentation. It will be from 4-6 p.m. and fees are $25 for individual members and $50 for individual nonmembers.

The categories and contenders are:

Culinary Business of the Year

Emerging Business of the Year

Local “Creative” of the Year

Government Contracting: Professional Services of the Year

Government Contracting: Technology Business of the Year

Medical Practice of the Year

Nonprofit of the Year

Professional Services Business of the Year

Retailer of the Year

Service Business of the Year

Technology Business of the Year

Woman-Owned Business of the Year

Young Professional of the Year

Russell G Brown Executive Leadership Award

Flu Season Could Impact Health Care Resources in Wake of Pandemic

The impending flu season could strain an already stretched health care system.

At last week’s COVID-19 update, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said the flu season could impact the pressures put on the area’s healthcare system.

“I do want to encourage everybody to start thinking about getting your flu shot,’’ he said. “Those will be available soon. It’s going to be very hard if people don’t get the flu shot and do get the flu.

“When they show up at any health care facility, we’re going to assume you have COVID until we know you don’t have COVID. So it will use up a lot of tests, take up a lot of your time, you’ll have to be quarantined, et cetera. My best advice is to get the flu shot.”

Meanwhile, the federal government reported it’s close to developing a vaccine for COVID-19 to be widely available in 2021. State officials are starting preparations for providing vaccines when they become available.

“We’ve got a large number of people from Madison County on a call (Tuesday),” Spillers said. “We’re going to be working with the state and probably over the next, I’d say within two weeks we’ll have a good plan. Long before the vaccine’s here, we’ll have a good plan not only for how we’re going to distribute, who we’re going to test, some idea of how many we think we might get, those types of things.”

As of Monday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 131,405 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2,292 deaths. Those totals for Madison County were 7,267 and 67.

 

New Huntsville Hospital Pedestrian Bridge in Place over Gallatin Street

The city’s largest medical construction project in 40 years has achieved a major milestone.

The new Orthopedic & Spine Tower is now connected to Huntsville Hospital thanks to a 50-ton pedestrian bridge over Gallatin Street. Aided by two large cranes, crews from Robins & Morton safely and delicately guided the bridge’s 80-foot-long steel frame into place last Saturday.

The climate-controlled walkway will allow Huntsville Hospital
staff, patients and visitors to move easily between the hospital and Orthopedic & Spine Tower.

Once construction is finished, the climate-controlled walkway will allow Huntsville Hospital staff, patients and visitors to move easily between the hospital and Orthopedic & Spine Tower.

The seven-story tower will include:

  • 24 state-of-the-art operating rooms
  • 72 spacious patient rooms\
  • Large pre-surgical prep and post-op recovery areas
  • A new home for the popular Joint Camp group physical therapy program
  • Covered parking for patients, visitors and physicians
  • More than 5,000 square feet of street-level restaurant and retail space

The tower at the northwest corner of Gallatin Street and Sivley Road – across from the hospital’s main entrance – is on track to open next summer.

Sanmina on Cutting Edge of COVID-19 Detection Research

Sanmina Senior Engineer Robert Newberry has more than 30 patents in research and development to his credit in a distinguished career that has spanned 25 years and two countries.

He has been at the forefront of developing non-invasive methods to measure blood type, sepsis infection, insulin and glucose levels.

In late February something new came along that changed the course of the innovative groups he leads at Sanmina — the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Today, he’s spearheading research for a non-invasive device that could speed the detection process of possible COVID-19 infection. Sanmina has released a preprint paper, or one that has not been formally reviewed, and Newberry recently discussed his research.

If things go as hoped, Sanmina will produce a device that would be used like a blood-pressure monitor and could be used in a doctor’s office or emergency room. It would reveal indicators that could give health providers an early warning of possible viral infection within minutes. It would lessen patients’ possible exposure in settings where the virus might exist.

“We’re not looking at the antibodies, but we’re looking at the reaction of the different immune system components, the different organs, and our device allows us to do this, basically within five minutes,’’ said Newberry, a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “So, this is the core mission of what we’re trying to accomplish, as well as trying to address the long-standing problem of patients going septic in the hospital.  Sepsis is the cause for about 50 percent of hospital deaths worldwide.

“It is an extremely severe problem and a lot of people have been studying this for quite some time. We’ve been doing research along this line. I am leading the research team. We have a number of patents that my team and I have been filing as we develop this technology.’’

Newberry said his teams have been “researching non-invasive optical sensing for the past several years, and it’s related to postdoc symmetry. We don’t use invasive techniques such as drawing blood. We monitor  data derived from a finger sensor  that produces signals to measure changes in circulation and other changing parameters.’’

Complex signals in the bloodstream, he said, reveal complex signals for detection and trends in a person.

“We’re working with … Dr. Evangelos J. Giamarellos-Bourboulis,” Newberry said. “He is the president of the European Septic Shock Society. We started a clinical trial to see if we could detect early sepsis, which you might be aware of is a form of an infection that goes out of control and makes organs dysfunctional. And so, we’ve been doing a lot of monitoring with our device in a clinical setting, and this was all going along just fine and then the pandemic hit.

“At that time, what we knew was that nitrous oxide, which is produced by the body, has three different synthetic forms, and one of those forms tends to amplify at a high rate prior to someone getting organ dysfunction beyond acceptance, which is sepsis. Our clinical data indicates that somewhere between two and six hours before a clinical diagnosis of sepsis, signals with our device can provide a pre-warning of sepsis. And this is fundamentally what our research is about.’’

Newberry’s long history of researching sepsis makes him an obvious candidate to explore COVID-19.

“In the worst case-patients with COVID-19, it leaves a pathway to sepsis,” he said. “So, when you hear about a patient with a severe case, normally they’ll go from the hospital ward to the ICU and they’re actually struggling with sepsis. In nearly every case this is what happens. The care providers in the hospitals are trying to fight this. In a fast-track study, we actually monitored known COVID cases in hospitals in Europe.

“We took a certain cohort of those patients and we were able to confirm, both with gold standard methods using the blood plasma and our sensor, that nitric oxide is greatly amplified prior to the severe condition of COVID-19. This is part of the results that have been summarized in the paper that you might have seen on the preprint. What we’re trying to discover is if we can identify three different sub-cohorts of COVID-19. We’ve already tested symptomatic patients that are hospitalized, but we’re trying to determine with our device whether we can tell if asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people are sick and provide an indication.’’

Sanmina is primarily a global contract manufacturer that builds products for other partners.

“We’ve been trying to get this technology to the next level of readiness so that a partner can deploy this solution,’’ Newberry said.

Newberry said he couldn’t offer a possible launch date for the device.

“I would say that our research that’s published is state of the art,’’ he said, “but I’m not able to comment about a timeframe.’’

Klasing Brings 20-plus Years of Experience to Huntsville’s Unity Psychiatric Care

Dr. Donald Klasing has been named medical director of Unity Psychiatric Care.

DR. DONALD KLASING

A board-certified psychiatrist, Klasing will oversee the hospital’s clinical teams treating adults with mental health challenges or behavioral complications associated with dementia.

Klasing, with more than 20 years of experience, will also offer outpatient psychiatric services to adults. He will also offer telemedical services and on-site nursing home visits. All CDC, state and local COVID-19 protocols will be followed.

“We are fortunate to be able to bring Dr. Klasing to Huntsville,” said Teresa Houser, administrator of Unity Psychiatric Care. “His experience diagnosing and treating seniors and other adults will increase access to high-quality mental health care in this community.”

As medical director, Klasing will be providing direct care for hospital patients, as well as leadership for a multidisciplinary team including psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Klasing has a degree in engineering and is a Navy veteran.

For inpatient referrals, call 256-964-6700; for outpatient referrals, call 256-964-6722.

Unity Psychiatric Care is a division of Franklin, Tenn.-based American Health Partners.