One of the world's largest biotechnology companies is making the best of a bad situation with a little help from its neighbors. In partnership with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Biogen (BIIB -1.24%) has formed a consortium that will build and share a COVID-19 biobank.

In early March, an executive from Biogen didn't realize they were COVID-19 positive while shaking hands with colleagues at the company's annual leadership meeting. Now, the cluster of cases that led to means there are a lot of Biogen employees in Massachusetts who were infected with the coronavirus and have had sufficient time to recover.

Laboratory technician with four test tubes.

Image source: Getty Images.

Volunteers from among those employees who have recovered from COVID-19, as well as close contacts of theirs who haven't been tested for the virus, will have their blood tested for the presence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. If the biobank can develop a large enough universe of data from those volunteers, researchers will have better odds of figuring out why some people who become infected recover without exhibiting serious symptoms, while others have much more severe cases.

Local cohort 

The Broad Institute will assemble blood samples from the infected individuals and their close contacts to build an anonymous set of medical and biological data. The COVID-19 biobank will become a free resource for researchers trying to develop vaccines and antiviral treatments. It will also be useful for epidemiologists who want to understand exactly how the disease spread through a relatively small group of the larger population. 

In addition to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Biogen will build and share the COVID-19 biobank with help from Partners HealthCare, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.