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April 3, 2020

Maine biotech companies stepping up, and hiring, in COVID-19 fight

A manufacturing area with workers wearing protective clothing Photo / Fred Field Puritan Medical Products in Guilford is making up to 1 million swabs a week to help with the coronavirus crisis, and is hiring.
Employment information for Maine life sciences businesses
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Maine’s life science companies, representing a variety of products and services, are finding themselves on the forefront of the worldwide effort to stop COVID-19 and adding employees as they increase production.

From Sanford to Guilford to Bar Harbor, the companies make everything from biological safety cabinets to swabs to COVID-19 tests. And the businesses are ramping up hiring as fast as they can, according to BioME, the trade association that represents the industry in the state.

Biomedical and life science companies are considered essential under the rules for what businesses can be operating during the crisis.

“Maine’s biomedical and life science companies are providing crucial tools in the global fight against COVID-19,” said Agnieszka Carpenter, executive director of BioME. "High demand for their products and expertise has increased the need for workers and many of these companies are hiring new employees right now.”

A rapid COVID-19 test

Abbott Laboratories, which is based in Illinois and has a production plant in Scarborough, began Wednesday manufacturing 50,000 COVID-19 rapid tests a day. The FDA last week granted emergency approval to Abbott for the test, which is capable of delivering positive results for the novel coronavirus in as little as 5 minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.

The Scarborough location is the only place in the world making the rapid tests. Quicker testing means fewer people in hospitals, faster results and more knowledge about how a patient should be treated.

"Because of its small size, it can be used in more non-traditional places where people can have their results in a matter of minutes, bringing an alternate testing technology to combat the novel coronavirus," the company said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC said at his daily briefing earlier this week, “It’s a big step forward. We are very interested in this test and its ability to turn around a result very quickly.”

Abbott, which has been producing flu-testing equipment for two decades, also announced two weeks ago the availability of the Abbott RealTime SARS-CoV-2 EUA test, which also tests for COVID-19 and runs on Abbott’s m2000 RealTime System. The system is used in more than 175 U.S. hospitals and laboratories. Combined with ID NOW, Abbott expects to produce about 5 million testing devices in April.

 Abbott has multiple open positions in Scarborough to meet its increased manufacturing needs, the company said.

Medical products, jobs

Some other companies helping battle the COVID-19 crisis are:

  • Puritan Medical Products in Guilford manufactures medical swabs used to collect specimens for coronavirus testing. The company is producing between 800,000 and 1 million swabs a week that could go to COVID-19 efforts. It is hiring 30 temporary employees.The Piscataquis County company makes more than 1,200 types of swab and single-use sample collection devices for the medical, diagnostics, microbiology, forensics and other industries. It produces 5 billion swabs a day, many of them sterilized and for specialized uses. In 2012, it launched UniTranz-RT and Opti-Swab, media for viral and bacterial transport, and a line of specimen-collection devices.
  • The Baker Co. in Sanford designs and manufactures biological safety cabinets. The workbenches are used in research laboratories by scientists studying diseases like COVID-19, as well as in health care settings for diagnosis and treatment. The company has received many rush orders from hospitals and public health laboratories and is putting those orders in the front of its production schedule, BioME said in the release. They are hiring for machine operators and stockroom workers.
  • Enercon Technologies in Gray manufactures diagnostic medical devices being used in the COVID-19 outbreak. In general, the company designs and builds electronics instrumentation specializing in medical devices, life sciences, military and industrial instrumentation.The company is urgently looking to fill more than 50 positions, the release said.
  • The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor is breeding stocks of genetically engineered mice that can be used in research for COVID-19. The lab will distribute the transgenic mice at cost to infectious disease research labs around the world in the hope of providing the research communities with the resources needed for scientific discoveries leading to the development of therapies that will stem the outbreak. 
  • BBI Solutions in Portland produces diagnostic reagents and provides assay development services that can accelerate tests to market and aid in the collection, interpretation and communication of test results.

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