'They Are Desperately Trying to Hire': Inside Curative's Race to Produce 10K COVID-19 Test Kits a Day

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

'They Are Desperately Trying to Hire': Inside Curative's Race to Produce 10K COVID-19 Test Kits a Day

The founder of Curative Inc. is in a race to make more than 10,000 coronavirus test kits a day, but he can't find the labor or parts fast enough. The lab set up a few weeks ago is providing the region with one of the fastest turnarounds on test results with their saliva-based test kits, health officials said. Yet, it can only run about 1,000 a day right now.

"They are desperately trying to hire," said Clayton Kazan, the medical director for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, who has been coordinating testing efforts. The company is bumping into many of the same problems that other labs have found. "They need swabs for their kits. It's really unfortunate."

Public health officials said as of Tuesday over 6,300 individuals in the county have been tested, with 11% coming back positive.

"With a population of 10 million people, we should have the capacity to run 100,000 tests a day," Kazan said. "The fact that we haven not been able to figure this out, not just locally but nationally, is really a failure."

South Korea's expansive testing was credited with curbing the spread of the virus, but officials have been hamstrung with tests in short supply. Meanwhile, hospitals are bracing for a surge of cases.

This week, Los Angeles county and city officials ramped up testing efforts when they announced on Monday the purchase of 20,000 new test kits from South Korea-based Seegene Technologies, Inc. along with a partnership with Curative. Mayor Eric Garcetti also rolled out a portal this week so that high-risk individuals could find testing in Los Angeles.

The first round of the Seegene tests will go towards first responders and health care workers. But, Kazan said the test are yet to arrive, while labs like Quest have a six day lag time for test results. Additionally, Seegene has committed to providing 100,000 tests per week to Los Angeles that will be made free to the public.

The need is urgent. Officials are in a race to stop the spread. The public health department only has the capacity to run between 80 to 120 tests daily with results in about 48 hours. At the same time the region's 72 hospitals are scaling up their labs, but Kazan said he's been so swamped he hasn't been able to track their individual capacity.

Curative did almost 400 COVID-19 tests on Monday and nearly double that on Tuesday and 1,100 on Wednesday. Curative founder Fred Turner's goal is 10,000 a day.

Unlike other labs, Curative doesn't rely on off-the shelf testing kits and automated machines. The company is also trying to hack the current supply chain by creating tests that don't rely on hard-to-come-by kit components. The lab is looking to make its own swabs, tubes and plates for RNA extraction.

Startup Aims to Produce 10,000 COVID-19 Kits a Day at Los Angeles Lab upload.wikimedia.org

Shaun Arora, an investor in the company, said this week he's been scrambling to help founder Turner find about 50 lab technicians that can process tests, spaces near their lab where they can handle biological specimens as well as other needed supplies to scale up their operations.

Arora is trying to procure an injection-molding machine that will allow the company to form its own plastics. Arora has been working with the local chamber of commerce and universities to procure some of the needed products and find qualified workers.

Curative set up shop in a 10,000-square-foot lab San Dimas earlier this month after Turner arrived from the Bay Area, where he was based.

Kazan said more companies like Curative are needed because, unlike Quest Diagnostics and Seegene, they are local and not competing with other regions like New York.

They've also set up at a drive-thru operation with the city of Los Angeles and have an agreement with the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff's department.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva earlier this week said he would release about 1,700 inmates from the jails, as officials try to ease conditions and prevent an outbreak inside the crowded facilities. The jails house many homeless individuals who health care workers are especially vulnerable to the virus.

The test kits tests provide results within 24 hours and eliminate unnecessary risk to health care workers by using saliva samples taken from a swab, rather than nasal ones which require a nurse.

Turner couldn't be reached for comment, but on Wednesday he tweeted out a plea: "We need PhDs who have experience with PCR and generalist software engineers (ideally with some lab/science experience) and are free in LA to help us scale Covid-19 testing!"


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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.