US plans for pocket-friendly COVID-19 tests

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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US manufacturers are sharply increasing production of cheaper, faster but less accurate COVID-19 tests kits with a target of 100 million units per month by the end of the year, which could significantly expand testing in schools and workplaces.

According to the reports, more than half a dozen antigen tests would be approved by the end of October. U.S. regulators have authorized antigen tests from Becton Dickinson & Company, Abbott Laboratories, LumiraDX and Quidel Corporation in recent months.

As per the sources, the planned production of newly approved tests in conjunction with previously approved diagnostics will increase the total monthly testing capacity in the U.S. to more than 200 million per year.

When compared with the antigen test, molecular diagnostics which currently dominates the US tests cost $100 and more. While molecular diagnostics require the sample to be sent to a lab with a waiting period of several days, the antigen tests which cost only $5 and it can be checked from anywhere with results produced within minutes.

Experts say that it is an important tool for future outbreaks, which opens up the possibility of regular checking at schools and businesses of even asymptomatic people.

Dwayne Breining, director of labs at Northwell Health said, “If we could get testing to a scale where everyone you want to test can be tested quickly and cheaply with a quick turnaround time (for results), then you could screen people”.

Similar to a quick test for strep throat in a doctor’s office, antigen tests detect certain proteins that are part of the virus from samples taken through the nasal or throat swabs.

Genuine concerns

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the attempts to control the spread of the virus, which has affected more than 6 million people in the United States, have been hampered by a lack of testing capability and federal coordination.

Still, regulators and health professionals are concerned about the reliability of the antigen test as there is not enough data to be certain the new tests can detect the virus when infected people are in the early, pre-symptomatic stage, potentially limiting their usefulness.

According to the data from Oxford University, the US has conducted around 25 million tests including lab and antigen tests in August. Antigen test manufacturers and their suppliers are preparing for a big boost to increase production.