Quidel’s Lyra Direct SARS-CoV-2 Assay. Courtesy of the company

Three companies representing San Diego’s booming biotech sector are now marching into the middle of the battle to slow the spread of COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health has given San Diego’s Quidel Corp. a $71 million contract to expand its product used for onsite, or point of care, testing, the federal agency announced recently. Quidel said that the contract money will be used to boost manufacturing so that it can increase production of diagnostic assay cassettes to 220 million from the current 84 million. Funds from the contract will also support expanded capacity at a distribution center to handle the flood of new assays headed its way.

The NIH awarded San Diego’s Mesa Biotech a contract worth as much as $15.4 million to supply handheld testing devices that can provide COVID-19 testing results in 30 minutes at the point of care. The agency also awarded Bay Area-based Helix $33 million plus to increase capacity at its San Diego high complexity lab. The aim is to produce more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests daily later this year.

The contracts were awarded under the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics – Advanced Technology Platforms or RADx-ATP initiative, which seeks to greatly expand point of care testing. The three companies were among seven companies awarded $249 million in new contracts that the NIH awarded under the program.

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Mega-philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has given a $40 million unrestricted grant to the nationwide LISC or Local Initiatives Support Corp. organization. LISC San Diego is one of 31 local LISC sites. San Diego will benefit immensely from the gift, said Ricardo Flores, executive director, who noted that the individual grant is the largest in that agency’s 40-year history. He said the money is a “game changer” for his agency. He said the funding comes at particularly important time as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 virus lays bare the deep race and class disparities in the country. “Your zip code should not determine your health or wealth,” he wrote in a news release. Scott said her gift is among the hundreds of millions of dollars recently awarded to 116 organizations nationwide.

Fish & Richardson’s new offices at One Paseo. Photo courtesy Pink Media Productions

High-profile law firm Fish & Richardson in Southern California has signed a 10-year lease for one for the entire top floor and half of the third floor in the new One Paseo office building at 12860 El Camino Real. Pacific Building Group was the general contractor for the project, which features first-of-its-kind source code rooms with lots of meeting space. Fish has 14 global offices. The office features nine conferences rooms in total — five which serve as public meeting areas and four internal conference rooms. The law firm has 39 attorneys and technology specialists in the region, according to a news release.

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The San Diego Housing Federation honored the local housing sector and public officials recently at its 30th annual Ruby Awards. The program recognizes notable achievements in affordable housing in the region. The Housing Project of the Year – Rehabilitation award went to Affirmed Housing’s Zeyphr, a conversion of a hotel and restaurant into a new housing complex that includes 84 units set aside for homeless veterans. Housing Project of the Year – New Construction went to Affirmed Housing’s Bluewater and Stella, two apartments in the Grantville neighborhood. Other award winners include Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear for Outstanding Government Official. With the economic fallout of the pandemic and protests surrounding systemic racism, the Ruby Awards’ motto of “No Place Like Home” carries an even deeper meaning this year, said SDHF Executive Director Stephen Russell. For the list of the winners, click here.

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Doomsayers have been predicting a collapse in the residential real estate market. But it hasn’t happened. In fact, just the opposite. According to the Zillow Weekly Market Report, homes that have accepted an offer — a leading indicator of completed sales — are up 16.1% from last year nationally. In the San Diego region, newly pending sales grew more than 4% from last week. Homes typically went under contract after 8 days, 14 days faster than last year. New listings grew 1.7% from last week. Inventory is low, down more than 37% compared to last year. The median sale price for the week ending June 13 was $598,650, nearly 2.5% more than the same period in 2019.

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More good news. The local restaurant industry has struggled during the current COVID-19 crisis. But there are plenty of entrepreneurs willing to give it a go despite the hurdles. Mission Valley has a new eatery opening later this month in the new Town & Country complex, which is rising from the site of the landmark resort site. ARLO’s will feature seafood, grilled and smoked meats, and healthy vegetarian and vegan dishes evocative of flavors found in Baja California. Josh Mouzakes will serve as chef. His career includes a stint at The French Laundry, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant located in Yountville, north of San Francisco.

Tom York is a Carlsbad-based independent journalist who specializes in writing about business and the economy. If you have news tips you’d like to share, send them to tom.york@gmail.com.

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