How Our Biotech Company Responded after September 11, 2001

20/20 GeneSystems joins others in pausing to remember the destruction afflicting our country 18 years ago today, and honors the courage and sacrifice of the first responders and others who responded that fateful day. But we also recall with some pride, as a entrepreneurial biotechnology start-up, our rapid response the national crisis in the fall of 2001.

On October 5, 2001, three weeks after the planes slammed into the Twin Towers and Pentagon, a Florida man died from inhalation anthrax, becoming the first known bioterrorism fatality in the U.S. Over the next 6 weeks 22 people were diagnosed with anthrax exposure and five died. This “one-two punch” from the airborne assault followed by the anthrax mailings created a level of national anxiety without precedent since the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Fire Departments throughout the country were deluged with around-the-clock 911 calls of “suspicious powders”, 99.9% of which were benign substances like sugar from powdered donuts, drywall dust from ceiling tiles, baby talc, etc. Our then months-old company, founded to create biomarker tests to improve cancer outcomes, immediately sprung into action by engaging with our local fire departments to understand the problems they were encountering and explore practical solutions. In a manner of weeks our scientists invented, optimized, and refined a field test known as BioCheck® to help emergency responders quickly and easily rule-out whether suspicious powders contain biological materials. (See BioCheckInfo.com)

For nine months BioCheck® was used by the District of Columbia Fire Department on actual 911 calls permitting us to demonstrate the effectiveness of this product in a real-world emergency setting. Since then our kits have been extensively evaluated and validated, using actual anthrax, ricin, and other known bioterror agents by the top testing laboratories affiliated with the U.S. Army and Department of Homeland Security. We estimate that more than a quarter million BioCheck® kits have been manufactured and sold over the past 18 years. Each year hundreds of workplaces hit with suspicious powder incidents are able to rapidly and confidently resume operations because of these reliable and popular test kits.

Our commitment to the fire service continues with our new OneTest cancer screening blood test. Government studies have proven that firefighters have statistically significant increases in incidents and deaths for more than a dozen cancer types. Over the past 6 months over 700 firefighters have ordered or received OneTest. Visit OneTestforCancer.com/firefighters.