Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, has introduced a bill that could revolutionize the way state agencies store and access biological samples. It could also create a boom for some Southern California-based biotech companies.
AB2387 "would require a state agency that maintains biosamplesinrefrigeratedstorage to implement an automated biosamplearchivalandretrievalsystem that meets prescribed requirements." Saldana is carrying the bill on behalf of GenVault,aCarlsbad-based company that makes this type of technology.
Jim Anderson, the lobbyist for Elevate LLC who is handlinghelegislationfor GenVault, noted the company hasseveralcompetitorswhomake the same type of technology.
These include Whatman FTA Company, VWR Company, FisherScientific,Biomatricaand DNA Genotek. He also notedthatif thebill passed,contracts to provide the technologytoagencies willbe subject to an open bidding process.
GenVault is located a few miles north of Saldana's district, while Biomatrica is located within it.
"Obviously we think they have the best, most advancedandusablesystem," Anderson said of GenVault. "But there are other providers."
The state agencies that would be most affected by the bill would be the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Health. DOJ stores millions of DNA samples from prisoners and suspects. Public Health keeps many different types of samples, including 14 million neonatal screening cards. It recently took the agency six months to retrieve 100 of these cards. Using GenVault's technology, Anderson said, the agency could access these in "a couple of hours."
Anderson said the slow response time has to do with the way samples are currently stored: frozen in huge freezers, the same way they have been since agencies started keeping DNA samples about 60 years ago. More modern storage technologies can keep these samples viable for long periods at room temperature, he said. The actual product an agency would buy from GenVault would consist of storage setup, a set of sophisticated robotic arms to retrieve the material, and a large database to track all of the samples. He estimated that it would cost about $2 million for the DOJ to switch over to this type of technology, but it would save the agency money over the long term.
Saldana said the bill is about saving government money over the long term – and reducing the state carbon footprint.
"I see it as part of a trend to find more efficiency and lower costs in the day-to-day operations of government," Saldana said. "Storing these samples at room temperature will cost significantly less than storing them in large freezers that require a lot of energy. This is a more environmentally responsible and less expensive way to operate. Employing an automatic retrieval system will make these biosamples more accessible to the law-enforcement agencies that actually use them. It's like replacing old card catalogs in libraries with more convenient computerized systems."
The bill is also partially a response to Proposition 69, which was passed by voters in 2004. It calls on the DOJ to collect DNA samples from all felons, as well as those convicted of arson or sex offenses. Set to go into effect on Jan. 1, it will greatly increase the number of samples the agency needs to store.