NEW YORK – On Opko's conference call to discuss its fourth quarter earnings results, subsidiary BioReference Laboratories emphasized the demand it has seen for rapid point-of-care tests for SARS-CoV-2 as the pandemic rages on.
BioReference Executive Chairman Jon Cohen said on the call that the laboratory has performed 100,000 rapid SARS-CoV-2 tests to date, adding that the point-of-care testing volume grew 260 percent from the third quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter. "We believe that rapid testing with point-of-care devices will play an increasingly important role in detecting this disease in situations where a timely result is important," he said.
The firm has offered customized point-of-care testing to a variety of clients, including sports leagues, entertainment venues, and public schools, and will implement the entire operation – from setup of instruments to interpretation of tests.
Mohit Mathur, BioReference's senior VP of medical affairs, said in an interview the company offers a range of PCR and antigen SARS-CoV-2 tests, including Quidel's Sofia antigen test, Abbott's BinaxNow antigen test, Cue Health's nucleic acid amplification test, and Mesa Biotech's Accula test, but added that it is looking at every point-of-care platform and is always investigating new tests and technologies to determine if they'd be a good fit.
Deciding which test to use for which client depends on many factors, Mathur said, such as the throughput needs, the feasibility of the test for the location, the cost, and the technology needed, as well as availability of platforms and reagents.
The uptake of BioReference's custom POC services has been largest in sports leagues because of their experience with the company, and "their use has significantly expanded" as they've gotten more comfortable with testing. As the pandemic has continued, the firm has seen uptake across the board for different users, such as employers and hospitality facilities. It has seen some business from urgent care clinics and hospital systems, but most of those facilities have expertise implementing point-of-care instruments and testing programs and may not need as much help from BioReference.
When a client requests point-of-care testing, as the National Basketball Association did last season – when it resumed the season, and the playoffs, by operating inside a bubble where all teams played in one location and venue – BioReference works to figure out what will be the best fit to maintain the accuracy and performance and where to best administer the tests. The company also helps deal with the SARS-CoV-2 reporting requirements for state and federal governments, Mathur said. BioReference builds an end-to-end program for the customer, providing staff to run the tests and interpret results as well. "Our experience allows us to be very flexible and bring a lot of different customizations to any client," he said.
Beyond the NBA, the firm also provided testing for other sports leagues including the National Hockey League and National Football League. For the NFL, BioReference performed 1.3 million COVID-19 tests total for the league's 5,000 staff, coaches, and players every day for the seven months of its 2020/2021 season, Cohen said. He also announced on the earnings call that the company had partnered with Major League Baseball to provide testing for its 30 teams.
Rapid testing is a "tremendously growing side of the COVID-19 diagnostic market" and is more in demand now, and Mathur said BioReference can accommodate any throughput as long as it has enough time to prepare. If it has the lead time to gather staff and sufficient space, he said there's no real limit to the potential capacity, especially because point-of-care instruments can be added and validated much more quickly than high-complexity laboratory instruments, such as a Roche Cobas machine.
If a manufacturer has significant capacity of instruments and reagents, Mathur said BioReference isn't limited to what it can provide. He added that due to the company's longstanding presence in the field, it has established relationships with manufacturers that help ensure it can get the supply it needs.
Although Mathur said it's hard to predict what will happen as the vaccine rollout continues and the pandemic ends, he doesn't see the company abandoning POC testing as cases subside. "There's still a desire, especially in enclosed settings where there's large volumes of people, to do the kind of testing that's needed for that particular event," he said. "I don’t necessarily think that as the numbers go down … point-of-care testing disappears."