Project@ALTEN: Sandy, Lab Scientist in a COVID-19 testing platform


Sandy, Life Sciences Consultant at ALTEN Belgium for the past three years, tells us about her contribution in the ‘fight’ against COVID-19. After working in the regulatory bioanalysis department at the biopharmaceutical company UCB, she joined their COVID-19 task force last May.

“UCB has set up a testing platform for COVID-19 following the request of the federal government with the help of pharmaceutical partners, such as GSK, Janssen and academic partners. For instance, members from Université libre de Bruxelles or Université catholique de Louvain are helping us with the testing. The analytical procedure was developed by Université de Liège. A real collaboration has been set up between the pharmaceutical sector and the academic world.

As a Lab Scientist on this platform, I am acting on the last step of the analytical procedure called quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR). Thanks to this technique, the RNA of the virus is amplified, allowing it to be detected and analysed against reference genes. My job starts once the steps of virus inactivation and RNA extraction are completed.
Three teams are currently working on this project, each composed of 20 people. The team members come from various departments within the company (production, R&D, Facilities, IT, etc.). Each team is present two days a week. We equally share our working time between the COVID-19 testing platform and our daily activities within our respective departments.

I find this experience very rewarding. I have never felt so close to the patients and useful. Behind each sample, there is a person waiting to find out whether he or she is positive or not to the COVID-19. I usually work in R&D on phases far from the release of the drug where I don’t feel such closeness to the patient. Another interesting aspect of this project is working within a multidisciplinary team. I also really admire the speed with which the testing laboratory was set up and the accreditation obtained: in just two weeks!

UCB is also working on the automation of certain steps of the procedure in order to increase the testing capacity. Moreover, protective visors are produced in the platform building for front-line healthcare workers. UCB is contributing in several ways to this fight against COVID-19 and I am proud to contribute to it as well as a consultant of ALTEN.”