Justin Sanchez
Ohio Life

Justin Sanchez on Fighting COVID-19 with Scientific Innovation

Battelle’s technical fellow for life sciences shares how the Columbus-based nonprofit ended up playing a pivotal role in battling against the contagious disease.

As COVID-19 wreaked havoc throughout the U.S., N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment became the first line of defense for doctors and nurses treating the virus. As the number of cases mounted, particularly in hot spots such as Seattle and New York City, supplies of N95 masks were depleted at an alarming rate.

It was the perfect time for Battelle, the world’s largest independent nonprofit science and technology research and development organization, to step up. Headquartered in Columbus, Battelle developed its Critical Care Decontamination System using vapor phase hydrogen peroxide to sterilize previously used N95 masks up to 20 times without degrading their performance. The process has the potential to also decontaminate goggles and other medical devices.

“This shows you the depth and the breadth of the work we do here,” says Justin Sanchez, Battelle’s technical fellow for life sciences. “It’s been amazing to see how rapid our response has been as the pandemic has spread. There aren’t any other places like Battelle, where we can form partnerships and rapidly scale up ideas.”

We talked with Sanchez about Battelle’s culture, Ohio’s role in battling COVID-19 and a possible second wave of the virus. 

Battelle initially researched its current decontamination processes five years ago. What makes you uniquely qualified to help solve this crisis?
We have always had a culture here that wants to do innovative things and use our talents for the greater good. The rally among the team to work nonstop is what I’m so impressed with. This is a purpose, a mission. Let’s do something that’s bigger than us as individuals. Because we’re a nonprofit, you can depend on us to make decisions that have the greater good in mind. 

Ohio served as a national leader with early efforts of social distancing. What’s been your relationship with state officials during this process?
Gov. DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton are very familiar with the work we do. We have been working with them on expanding the state’s diagnostic testing, including possible home testing. OhioHealth and Cardinal Health are strong partners who have collaborated with us. We’re now working with health systems in New York, Washington state, Maryland, Colorado, Georgia, Connecticut and Florida. There are a lot of moving parts to this. Logistics make all the difference in the world.

What are the chances of a second wave of COVID-19 this fall or winter?
We never want to see a recurrence, but it is the nature of biological systems. We’re already talking about global health security. What if there was the potential to predict [virus] earlier and measures to develop new approaches and new technologies? Our teams are already thinking about what’s next.

For more information, visit battelle.org.