The manufacturer has built units that helped combat MERS and SARS.
Germfree is no stranger to epidemics.
Before COVID-19, the Ormond Beach-based manufacturer had built mobile and modular biocontainment units for laboratories at the front lines of MERS, SARS, Zika and Ebola. It's what the company has specialized in for the last six decades.
“We’ve got a pretty strong pedigree in it," Germfree President Kevin Kyle said.
The company has installed many biocontainment labs on a global scale. With facilities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and Peru — to name a few — Germfree has over 100 laboratory installations and deployed a vast majority of the advanced biosafety labs in the world, according to a press release.
One of them is a lab in Singapore that is aiding in COVID-19 research. Before this pandemic, that lab was one of the first to culture SARS. At the beginning of April, Germfree was also working on a large modular lab that the National Institute of Health Clinical Center requested for research of cancer cures, Kyle said.
Both were built in Germfree's 170,000-square-foot facility in Ormond Beach's Airport Business Park, and Kyle said the company has received a record volume for similar large modular projects in the last few weeks. Where Germfree used to receive one request a quarter of these projects, in late March, it received five in one week.
Germfree employs over 150 people skilled in engineering, manufacturing and other related areas. Kyle said some of the world's experts on biocontainment are working in the building.
“We definitely are trying to bring that expertise to the world right now — trying to make sure people are building things that are safe and trying to deliver just good quality and good safety," he said.
One of their employees is Eugenie Owens, who has been with the company for 16 years. She's a main tester, and currently works to make sure the company's laminar flow glovebox isolators (a unit that provides sterile compounding when dealing with potentially harmful biohazards) are ready for certifiers. Kyle said Germfree has increased production of these units, seeing as there is a personal protective equipment shortage across the country. These units would allow health care professionals to handle COVID-19 samples while minimizing chances for transmission.
These machines are complex, but important, she said.
“I appreciate what I do because I know it helps many people outside, and it could even help me if anything ever happens," she said. "I know it’s doing something.”
Responding to COVID-19
In the last three years, Germfree has deployed 65 mobile biocontainment labs, Kyle said. Five of them occurred in late March and early April.
One of them was deployed to pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company in Indiana to work on a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Conceived, designed and made in Ormond Beach," Kyle said.
These trailers take about six weeks to complete. The larger modular units can take anywhere from nine months to a year.
The complexity of the units means most employees have to be on the floor, though due to the pandemic, Germfree is allowing those who don't interact with the units to work remotely. To keep its workforce safe, Germfree is maintaining social distancing guidelines and wiping down common areas frequently, Kyle said.
This is the best team he's worked with, he added.
“I think we just absolutely love our mission," Kyle said. "It feels great. It feels like you’re doing something that serves humanity and for the greater good.”