As film and TV sets start to reopen and production resumes, the key concern is keeping cast and crew safe and coronavirus off the set.
Santa Monica-based Quantgene, which normally focuses on blood tests that detect several types of cancer, is helping production companies and studios by offering fast turnaround on tests. While some companies take a few days, Quantgene has upped the ante by providing on-site testing and results within a 24-hour window.
Founder and chief executive officer Jo Bhakdi says the company has always pushed for early detection of diseases and as a film lover, he was disheartened to see how coronavirus brought everything to a grinding halt. After months of waiting for union guidelines, Bhakdi pivoted into coronavirus testing.
Below, Variety caught up with Bhakdi to learn about costs and how studios and production companies have been approaching Quantgene as they resume production safely.
How did you get into coronavirus testing?
At first, we stayed out of it, thinking someone would take care of the problem. We have a deep understanding of laboratory processes and the entire regulatory framework. Over time — because we have many connections in the movie industry — we started to hear complaints about how long testing was taking and at this rate, with everything grounded to a halt, we won’t have any new movies to look forward to.
We began by expanding our laboratory infrastructure and partnered up with more labs around L.A. We looked at billing systems, demands of testing turnaround and logistics.
The other thing is testing on movie productions need to be conducted daily and the results need to be back fast. So, we put in all the clinical layers and did what we do best — understanding the compliance and regulatory conditions — and had those put on site.
L.A. County has urgent needs for testing – from courtrooms to police and firemen, but also movies.
Have production companies approached you since you’ve been able to offer this fast and accurate testing?
We are working with five production companies who have started negotiations with us regarding testing, but they want to keep their names under wrap.
Why benefits would a studio or production company have in approaching you?
You can get PCR tests and be confident that you don’t have it. But you could have it the next day. Movies are the most advanced of industries when it comes to guidelines. If you are on a film set, you have to be tested every day. There’s no discussion on it and it’s very responsible of the productions. The unions have done such a great job with it all.
Ultimate safety in this time of COVID means daily testing. You have to logistically organize that with a trailer and a nurse doing the tests. You get tested and we deliver the next day. If you’re cleared for that day, you can work. And if you continue to do that daily, then it’s a safe way of ensuring everyone’s safety.
It really boils down to a combination of adhering to the rules, and of having a deep clinical and technical understanding of what tests are, how they work and when they don’t work, and how to avoid that.
Are you able to provide a ballpark as to what the testing would cost?
We start at around 1000 tests a month each costing $100 with the fast turnaround. The cost of the nurses aren’t included, but it’s all about how much testing you do.