The road to COVID-19 testing: The role of a Canadian biotech pioneer

(John Bergeron/ The Conversation) — Canadians are updated daily on the multi-faceted devastation caused by SARS-CoV-2 and on the results of COVID-19 testing from across the country. Few people may be aware that these tests are based on a method innovated by the first-ever biotech company, Cetus, co-founded in California by Canadian-born and educated Ron Cape. He was Cetus’s first president in 1971, and then chairman and CEO.

Biotech was nonexistent before this. Cape obtained his PhD at McGill in 1967 with John Spencer as his supervisor, who was one of the pioneers in DNA biochemistry. At the same time, Cape was president of the Professional Pharmaceutical Corporation in Montréal.

The method used globally to test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is known as the polymerase chain reaction or PCR. This revolutionary innovation was developed at Cetus by in-house scientist Kary Mullis. Awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, Mullis received the only Nobel Prize for a discovery made by a biotech company. (…)

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