Quest Diagnostics to launch coronavirus test service

(Reuters) – Lab operators Quest Diagnostics Inc and OPKO Health Inc said on Thursday they would be able to begin testing for coronavirus from next week, as the U.S. government ramps up efforts to increase diagnostic capabilities.

The ongoing struggle to expand local testing has been criticized as an early misstep in the government’s response to the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,300 people around the globe, including 11 in the United States.

U.S. health officials said on Thursday they expect to deliver enough coronavirus tests to public laboratories this week to test about 400,000 people.

Officials expect to ship additional test kits to cover between 1.5 million and 1.7 million people by the end of next week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.

The FDA said last week it would allow some laboratories to immediately use the tests they have developed and validated, while they await FDA’s emergency-use authorization, to achieve more rapid testing capacity for the coronavirus in the country.

Previously, only testing kits developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of which were found to be faulty, could be used in public health labs.

Quest said its services will be provided as a laboratory developed test, pending review by the FDA under emergency-use authorization.

Diagnostics company LabCorp said on Wednesday it would launch its coronavirus test service at the end of this week at the earliest and make it available nationwide next week.

Quest said its test service would employ respiratory specimens collected from appropriate health care settings, such as hospitals and physicians’ offices, as the company does not collect specimens of suspected cases.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has included coronavirus testing as an essential health benefit, which would require most health plans as well as the government Medicare and Medicaid programs to cover the tests.

Analysts at Evercore ISI expect lab tests developed by Quest and LabCorp to be priced around $45 to $50, as much as a flu test costs.

Separately, Co-Diagnostics Inc said it was seeing a surge in demand for its coronavirus test kits after the policy change from the U.S. FDA.

Shares of OPKO Health were up 11.4% while Co-Diagnostics was up 26% on the news.

Reporting By Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.

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