When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Leo Friedman pivoted his corporate gift company, iPromo, to help provide his customers with the products they need like face masks and gloves.
Now that many of these customers are returning their employees to their offices, companies want to provide them with rapid tests to protect against transmission in the office.
Friedman has tried filling these quick test orders, but he can’t keep up with the demand. When he finds a new batch of products, the prices are inflated because they are being resold.
“Most of the time, you go to Amazon and search for BinaxNOW, and there’s nothing there,” Friedman said. MedPage today. “When there is supply, they are bought by robots and end up being resold.”
For several weeks, rapid tests have been scarce, for several reasons. There is new demand from employers returning to work in the office. At the same time, manufacturers have gambled against the need for testing as cases took a nosedive last spring (Abbott notably destroyed several batches of its rapid tests over the summer). Then there are concerns that the FDA clearance process is too strict, requiring manufacturers to meet what some see as an unnecessarily high bar before they are allowed into the market.
Experts say testing can provide a useful way to control the spread, especially in offices, schools, long-term care facilities, prisons and other crowded places. The White House seems to recognize this value, as it recently injected billions into several initiatives to strengthen rapid testing.
Market analysts have said it will likely be weeks, if not months, before supply can finally catch up with demand – and that’s concerning as cooler weather is already drawing more people indoors.
Currently, the FDA has cleared eight rapid over-the-counter home antigen tests:
All are at various stages and levels of production and distribution.
BinaxNOW is the market leader, with a 75% market share, Abbott CEO Robert Ford said on the company’s latest earnings conference call. Ford noted the company had a 90% market share before dropping to 60% in September, which fell “just because of the supply,” apparently acknowledging the summer purge.
Abbott recently reopened an Illinois manufacturing plant it had closed on betting demand for rapid tests would drop, according to Reuters. Ford said during the call for the results that the company can now perform more than 100 million tests per month, but still a long way from what a nation of 330 million people could use.
While initially governments were its best customers for rapid testing, Ford pointed out that Abbott has now seen a wave of demands from businesses and employers.
“At the start of the pandemic, most of our sales were to governments, whether it was international governments, the federal government here in the United States, state governments as well. And it continues to be quite strong,” he said. he declared. “But what we’ve seen now grow quite significantly, and I think that’s aligned with the screening elements, the private side of the market, whether it’s over-the-counter, cash, whatever. ‘That’s a lot of companies. We’ve seen a lot of the companies, over the past two months here, have signed contracts with us to make sure they have quick tests to run their employees. . “
Likewise, Quidel CEO Doug Bryant said Reuters, “Employer demand has gone crazy. We will not be able to respond to all the requests we have. “
While supply struggles to catch up with demand, some experts have also worried that the FDA’s regulations on rapid tests may be too strict.
In an editorial for STAT, Daniel Oran, MA, of the digital medicine group at Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif., Argued that the FDA should not classify rapid tests as medical devices. Instead, they should be viewed as public health screening tools and assessed on their ability “to identify and isolate infectious individuals in a timely manner.”
Tinglong Dai, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, agreed that “the FDA has been cautious and slow in approving rapid tests.
Typically, he said, rapid tests should prove their accuracy by being tested against benchmark PCR tests – but it’s not necessarily the right comparison for tests that aim to catch the most cases. infectious diseases most likely to spread. PCR, on the other hand, can turn positive even when an individual is no longer contagious.
Dai noted that the European Union has authorized more than 100 different rapid tests, which has helped make them almost ubiquitous there and allowed them to play a key role in helping stop the spread of the virus.
What happened to the $ 5 tests?
Several times over the past week, this reporter has attempted to purchase an Abbott BinaxNOW on Amazon. In most cases, there were none available.
Finally, Tuesday morning, a positive result: a BinaxNOW was available for $ 14. The kit, which includes two tests, has been placed in the virtual shopping cart, ordered, and is expected to ship between October 28 and November 4.
Hours later, however, none of the Abbott tests were available on Amazon.
In its place, a rapid antigen test called On / Go, manufactured by Intrivo Diagnostics, was offered for $ 34.99.
That price is more in line with iPromo’s price, which ranges from $ 26 to $ 35 for a single box with two tests, the result of having to buy from middlemen, Friedman said.
Testing is supposed to be available at major retailers like CVS and Walgreens, but it has also been reported to be scarce in these locations.
While the BinaxNOW was on sale on Walmart.com for $ 14, it was out of stock. It was, however, available online at CVS and Walgreens, but for $ 23.99.
Dai noted that these prices are so much higher than what public health experts initially hoped for.
“We initially thought these tests could cost $ 5 each, we had high hopes for that,” Dai said. MedPage today. “At CVS and Walgreens they cost over $ 20 apiece. It’s crazy.”
Dai, who reviewed the appeal on Abbott’s results, lamented the focus on revenue and profit around testing: “I find it bizarre that there is very little public health concern.”