Covid-19 Tests Are Evolving For Flu Season. Here’s What’s New.


 
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By Shaina Mishkin

As temperatures drop and the U.S. prepares to endure a flu season on top of a pandemic, Covid-19 tests are evolving to account for what could be a difficult winter. Adam Schechter, chairman and CEO of LabCorp, shared what’s next for testing and his outlook on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we enter the fall and we enter the flu season, we’re going to have to be very careful,” said the CEO, stressing the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands as Covid case counts increase.

One new test from the biotech firm is able to screen patients for Covid-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that often causes mild cold symptoms, in a single swab, Schechter said. LabCorp launched the test for use by health care providers in early September. An at-home version of that test that would allow patients to perform the test themselves is currently pending emergency use approval by the FDA. In April, the company received emergency use approval for its Covid-only at-home test.

The CEO also said LabCorp has devised a way to perform part of the testing process without the use of reagents, chemicals used in the process to extract viral RNA from samples. Instead, the new process uses heat, which the company says will speed up testing and improve efficiency. The method was granted an emergency use authorization by the FDA in October, according to a LabCorp Press release.

For Schechter, these new innovations are among the latest twists and turns in an unexpected first year at the helm of the company. The chairman became LabCorp’s CEO last November. “I had a 30-day plan, a 60-day plan, 90-day plan, and all that went out the wayside with Covid,” he said. “We’ve been completely focused and doing everything we possibly can to build as much capacity for testing to help as many people as we can.”

While there have been new tests and other advancements over the past several months, there’s still much to learn about the virus, he says. Some of that knowledge will come with the rollout of vaccines.

“There’s a lot of work going on with vaccines and understanding antibodies and [other immune responses like] T cells, so that we’ll have a better understanding into the future,” the CEO says. “At the same time, there’s so many scientists around the world that are just studying the antibodies to understand them better.”

Another vaccine unknown: the price of the preventative measure. “It’s too early to know what the vaccines will cost,” Schechter said, adding that he thinks there are currently too many unknowns—like the doses required for effectiveness and how long a vaccine lasts—for companies to price the drugs. “I’m sure there’s a lot more that the vaccine manufacturers want to understand before they can have a price,” he says.

 
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