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Rutgers Scientist Who Developed First COVID-19 Saliva Test Dies Suddenly, 51

Dr. Andrew "Andy" Brooks Photo Credit: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
Dr. Andrew "Andy" Brooks Photo Credit: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

Rutgers University research professor Andrew Brooks, who played an integral role in the development of the first approved COVID-19 saliva test, died suddenly over the weekend.

Brooks died on Saturday, Jan. 23. He was 51 years old.

Gov. Phil Murphy remembered Brooks, affectionately known as Andy, as an unsung hero of New Jersey.

"You may remember that name," Murphy said during Monday's COVID-19 briefing. "Why? Because last year in the frenetic early days of the pandemic, he led development of the... so-called spit or saliva test. 

"[It was] the first test to be put into use anywhere in the country and has undoubtedly saved lives."

More than four million rapid response tests, which were the first approved for home use, have been performed since March, earning Brooks and his lab's pioneering work recognition in The New York Times, CNN and other national media outlets.

“We cannot thank Andy enough for all he did across his career,’’ Murphy said. “He will be sorely missed by many.’’

Brooks was a research professor in Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences in the Department of Genetics, an academic member of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey, a research faculty member in Rutgers’ Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute and a member of its NIHS Center of Excellence, and a member of the graduate faculty in Rutgers Joint Graduate Program in Toxicology.

His career was distinguished by outstanding scholarship, service in the field of biomedicine and business activities designed to improve human health. As chief operating officer and director of technology development at RUCDR Infinite Biologics, he led the effort to develop the COVID-19 saliva test. The test received FDA emergency use authorization as the first approved saliva diagnostic and a month later as the first of any test approved for home use.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Brooks received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Rochester and later became its director of Medical Center Core Facilities. Four years later, he returned to New Jersey to direct the joint Rutgers/UMDNJ EOHSI Bionomics Research and Technology Center. In 2009, he became chief operating officer and director of technology development of RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which, through an asset purchase agreement, was spun out from Rutgers to create Infinity BiologiX, of which Brooks became chief executive officer.

He co-authored more than 70 publications and played a key role in providing consultation, biobanking and analytical services to many large research projects that have yielded insights into the genomic etiology of human diseases and the effects of environmental exposures. He also served 17 years as an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration as director of the Harlan (now Envigo) GeneScreen Laboratory and as co-founding director of the BioProcessing Solutions Alliance.

In his free time, Brooks was an accomplished amateur golfer, often known to play with his father. His skill, concentration and friendly competitive spirit led to victory in international tournaments.

“We at Rutgers offer our heartfelt condolences to his family, including his three children, and with them we take pride in his achievements that will have lasting impact," Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom and S. David Kimball, Rutgers Senior Vice President of Research said in a joint statement.

"Andy and I were close," said Jay Tischfield, founder and CEO of RUCDR, distinguished professor of genetics at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, and executive director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey.

"We often commented that I was old enough to be his father, and I often thought of him as a son. He will be fondly remembered by the large cohort of scientists whose research he facilitated across many years.”

A funeral service will be held on Thursday, Jan. 28 by invitation only due to COVID-19 restrictions. The service will also be live-streamed. 

Brooks is survived by his wife, Jil; three daughters, Lauren, Hannah and Danielle; his mother, Phyllis Brooks, his sister Janet Green and a niece and nephew.

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