In recent weeks, the US has struggled to supply enough tests to detect the coronavirus. Now, however, this may change thanks to the FDA’s approval of a rapid-testing device by Abbott Laboratories capable of telling if someone is infected with the virus in just five minutes.
John Frels, vice president of research and development at Abbott Diagnostics, said, “This is really going to provide a tremendous opportunity for front-line caregivers, those having to diagnose a lot of infections, to close the gap with our testing...A clinic will be able to turn that result around quickly, while the patient is waiting.”
To take the test, medical practitioners must take a swab from a patient’s nose or the back of their throat. Then mixing the swab in a chemical solution to break the virus down and release its RNA for identification, it is then inserted into an ID Now system, a box weighing less than 7 pounds. This box then identifies and reads select sequences relevant to the coronavirus genome. Taking just five minutes to deliver positive results when the patient has a high viral load, a more thorough analysis to rule out the virus altogether takes up to 13 minutes.
Abbott Diagnostics has said that they will be able to make 50,000 of these tests per day from April 1st, and that they can be used in practically any healthcare setting. Thus, the US government initially plans on delivering them to where they are most needed- particularly in hospital emergency rooms, urgent-care clinics and doctors’ offices.
This news comes after the FDA’s approval of Abbott’s m2000 RealTime system, another diagnostic technique that, although takes longer to produce results, can be produced at a much faster rate: up to 1 million tests per week. The two systems taken together mean that Abbott will soon be able to create at least 5 million tests per month.
Meanwhile, other companies have also been working hard to deliver diagnostic tools for the coronavirus. Henry Schein Inc, for example, announced the availability of its point-of care antibody test. Looking for evidence that a person’s immune system has already fought off the virus, the blood test delivers results within 15 minutes, although it can’t be used to detect current infections.