At the peak of COVID-19 and even though today, as we still battle the disease, companies across the nation have been challenged to pivot their businesses, to meet the emergency needs of the pandemic. I’m Hilary Topper and this is Hilary Topper on Air. Today, I’m speaking with Kara Cannon, chief commercial officer for Enzo Biochem Inc., a pioneer in molecular diagnostics. Kara, welcome to the show.
Kara – Thank you. I’m happy to be here, Hilary.
Hilary – So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Kara – Sure I’d love to. I’m involved in diagnostics and I’m the chief commercial officer of a Long Island company called Enzo Biochem Inc. The way that I got here is, I have a background in science. I have a biology degree from Franklin and Marshall College, and I have been working within what I would call the life sciences commercial industry for about 30 years. I’ve spent 10 of those years here at Enzo. And when I say I’m involved in diagnostics or that Enzo’s involved in diagnostics, we do a couple of different things. We run tests for doctors. So when you need to have clinical tests done, you go to your doctor. You might have blood work drawn and you need to get work upon that blood. Those samples would come to a company like Enzo’s. We have this clinical testing lab here on-site, where we run the tests and results back to the doctor who then goes through the results with the patient. And we also sell the products that are used by those same labs that are doing the testing. So that really tells you a little bit about myself and Enzo.
Hilary – And now, Enzo Biochem Inc is a global company, is that correct?
Kara – That’s correct. We are. So we are selling our products and services across the globe. We do that through our own employees. There are 500 of us globally, and we also have a network of partners that we deal with as well.
Hilary – Wow. That’s huge. So now COVID-19 comes in at the beginning of 2020, and it really changed everything. How did the pandemic impact Enzo Biochem and how did you guys pivot to meet the needs and demands of today’s world?
Kara – Yeah. So that’s a great question. And it’s an understatement, right? To say that COVID-19 changed everything. For us, it was a surprise. When we heard everything that was happening, going all the way back to let’s say November, December of 2019; we started to hear some things in the industry about what was happening. But, at that time, we were really focused. Again, Enzo is a diagnostic company, we were focused on making diagnostic tests, the tests that we were looking to build were in the area of what we would term women’s health and also general testing. We were developing a system for testing STDs, which often uses a molecular test to look for things like, herpes, HPV, things like this. This is where we were focused. And then, when the world started to get turned upside down, we looked at what was happening and we said, well, okay, this COVID-19, this virus it’s going to be picked up through a molecular test. The global scientists were already starting to speak to this. So we were able to thankfully very quickly pivot our scientists and pivot our business during COVID-19. And we said, okay, put aside all of the targets you’re looking at right now, but use that concept and come up with a way that we can use that technology to start testing for COVID and, within a few weeks, we were able to get those initial tests worked up.
We submitted them to the FDA. We got EUA approval, which again is a term that I feel like nobody knew 18 months ago. And now it’s like on the common vernacular and we did get our EUA approval in the spring of 2020. And we’ve been running that test in our own lab ever since. So we’ve been running thousands of COVID-19 tests every day, since April using the Enzo molecular tests. So, we were really lucky that our team was able to switch their mind and get focused on this problem. And again, now I can go on and on, but there were so many challenges that I’m so thankful that our team was willing to get involved.
It starts with the world literally shutting down and people sequestering in their homes. And as a fellow New Yorker, I’m sure you remember the Governor saying everybody had to stay home. And we had to talk to our staff and say we’re essential workers. We need you all to come onsite. We need to get this test up and running. We need to keep our lab running. These are the ways that we’re going to figure out how to get ahead of this pandemic. And again, we were so lucky because all of our staff was on board with it. Everybody was willing to come on-site every day to try to first figure out how to make the test then to get the test running on our clinical production floor.
And then we started setting up pop-up collection sites in our parking lot. And have people drive up, you’ve seen them on the TV where, before there were the vaccine pop-ups, we had the collection pop-ups so we had some of those running essentially in our backyard and it really just became like one challenge after the next. But we were able to dive into these challenges, get people to buy-in, and then come up with a solution.
Hilary – Well, congratulations to you and to Enzo and the entire staff for just being able to do that, because that must have been really, really rough. Just switching gears, getting people to come to work, there was just so many issues and you guys are real godsends to everybody in this community. So thank you for that. Let’s talk about how this whole shift hurt or helped your business. I mean, do you think that you’re going to be going back to where you were before the pandemic? Or where do you see this going?
Kara – Yeah, so, we are already trying to shift our attention back to the projects we had started pre-pandemic. So, where we are now, what we’re hoping is there some parts of COVID testing that will for, we believe will forever be part of our business. So the volumes of COVID testing might go down over time. We expect them to go down over time, but we think it’s something that will always be around and will always be offering the test to say whether you have been exposed or not to the virus. But I think it’s been, I hate to use the word positive because there’s just so much that has been backward, but I think it pushed us and not just us. I think it just pushed the nation to think about how we’ve done things and if there were better ways to do them. And so, just as an example, most people, if you talked about getting some sort of a diagnostic test, you would immediately think I have to phone my doctor and I have to go to a doctor’s office. And because of everything that happened over this past year, there has been more of an acceptance of things like telemedicine ordering lab tests online.
Enzo has embraced some of these concepts and we hope that part will stick around because it makes patient care more accessible. It’s better for healthcare if you can get to the tests you need more quickly and more conveniently. So one of the things that we had done during the pandemic was we had set up a web portal so that people could go online and request a COVID test. So again, instead of having to go into the doctor’s office, they could now go on this online portal to request the test. We’ve partnered with a network of doctors who have viewed the test and then order the test for the patient. The patient gets an email, goes to one of our pop-up collection sites has the sample drawn, and then the results are accessible back through that web portal.
So now that we have this, and if you think about it, we were interested in offering an expanded portfolio of testing for things like sexually transmitted diseases. We can use that same portal now. To offer up other kinds of testing, like for STDs or maybe for general wellness. So those sorts of things, or, at least, new ways that we’ve started thinking that we shouldn’t forget as we come out of the pandemic.
Hilary – Absolutely. That’s awesome. So before we move on, I just want to say that I am so appreciative of our sponsors and must take this time to thank them. Please support our sponsors and tell them that you heard about them on Hilary Topper on air. Special thanks to the Russo Law Group, The Profit Express, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes LLP, and the Pegalis Law Group.
Now back to you, Kara. So we’re talking about Enzo Biochem and how the company pivoted the business during COVID-19 and shifted its focus to address the urgent need of COVID-19 testing and the beginning of the pandemic and, today, how has this shift in the business affected Enzo biochem as a whole, besides what you told me before, and if are you planning to continue in your current space?
Kara – So, yes, we are going to continue in our current space. The effects on our business have been both positive and negative if I just talk generally. I say positive and negative because, just like any other business, we’ve had to deal with a lot of business questions that we wouldn’t have been thinking about under normal conditions, right? The one most people talk about is remote work. And again, it was even more complex for us because we had people that just had to be on-site. And then we had some people that we looked at ways to allow them to do remote working. That wasn’t something that was common at Enzo, we were a small company. Sometimes it sounds big to say 500 people, but we worked pretty closely in our operations. Most people are located on-site and so to sort of move through how to change our daily business, where we had some people on-site and some people zooming in from home was one of the many challenges that we had to deal with. But again, you know, there are benefits in that we were able to use the presence we already had in our community and really drive that closer connection with people in our community to be able to offer the testing that was needed at the time. And we’re hoping that, as we get back to normal business, that people will remember “Oh, if they were that useful for COVID testing, I’m going to use Enzo for my blood work, or I’m going to ask my doctor to send my samples to, and so when I need my general wellness check.”
Hilary – So let’s talk for a moment about these new variants of COVID. So they’re just talking about them every single day, a new variant is coming out. Will we need a booster for the COVID vaccine, you know, do you think the need for accurate and effective PCR testing will continue?
Kara – I do. A little bit of science before I fully answer the question is, as we’ve all heard now, COVID is a virus, and viruses are known to mutate. So if you think about the flu as the best comparison, every season there’s a new variation of flu that’s coming around. And that’s why the flu vaccines are always, um, some years they’re really accurate and some years they’re less accurate because those mutations are being taken into consideration long before the vaccine is fully developed.
And so, similarly, it’s not a surprise to scientists that the COVID virus is mutating, but some of the things that we see are that the virus is not mutating that quickly. And the variants that are known right now, there’s enough similarity between them that most of the tests that are available the absence or presence testing essentially to say do you carry the virus or not? They will pick up the known variants that we see today. And so I think that we’re always going to have to be watching to see what happens and to see how this virus continues to mutate. But I think it’s something that we’ll find is more and more controllable as time goes forward because we learn more, we know more we’re ahead of it. People will be vaccinated. So won’t transmit as, as quickly. So we have lots of positives that we’re building on, but I think we’re always going to have some form of testing and we’re going to have to be mindful and diligent of the fact that the COVID-19 virus is out there.
Hilary – Before the intermission, we talked a little bit about the pop-ups and how you had them all over the place. Were they specifically on Long Island or were they across the country?
Kara – That’s a great question. We were focused regionally. So the majority of our collection sites were in the New York area. And then we had some also in New Jersey. So we really were focused on the tri-state area.
Hilary – Awesome. And finally, how could people get in touch with you to learn more about Enzo Biochem?
Kara – So the best place is our website, which is www.enzo.com. I’m also happy for people to go to my LinkedIn, Kara Cannon. And, similarly, we have some social media presence for Enzo on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and on Instagram. And it’s under the Enzo Biochem exchange and also under Enzo Life Sciences.
Hilary – Wow. That’s great. Thank you. This was really informative. I really appreciate you being on the show. I appreciate what Enzo Biochem Inc has done for our community. So again, thank you very much.
And I’d also like to thank our sponsors, The Russo Law Group, The Profit Express, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes L L P, and the Pegalis Law Group. And last but not least, I want to thank you, our listeners for tuning in.
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