As industry begins to reopen across the state, life science companies turn their sights to expanding COVID-19 diagnostic and antibody testing options for the workplace.
Greenville-based lab Precision Genetics partnered with Prisma Health in early April to process the health care system's COVID-19 tests within 24-hours of reaching the lab.
Now that this testing line is fully automated with the capacity to churn out about 1,000 samples in a matter of hours, the lab is developing plans for the next testing battleground with a high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic program called "Precision Worker Safety" and a smartphone employee wellness app created by Questis that uses an RFID thermometer to report feverish temperatures to employers.
"Up here in Greenville, manufacturing is a huge, huge part of our economic situation, so we have to be able to provide employers some kind of assurance that their employees can come back to work without a rapid spread of the virus," Nate Wilbourne, CEO and president of Precision Genetics said, adding that it is "naive" to think the state peaked in mid-April with so little testing.
He said Precision is working with several large self-insured manufacturing companies as well as poultry suppliers to develop a salvia-based testing strategy. Pending a state-supported grant that the lab applied for during the week of May 1, Precision will launch saliva-based testing within three weeks.
Other methods of testing face a waiting period before they can be implemented, while the app is several months away from release, he said.
"What we've developed is a combination approach to COVID-19 screening and an antibody test as it evolves, as the workforce is building up an immunity at the individual level, which reduces the spread over time," he said. "Until there's a vaccine or some type of therapy, that is the safest way to go about this."
In late April, however, Wilbourne said current antibody tests led to a number of false positives and negatives.
"Unfortunately, antibody testing is not very reliable today, as it sits," he said. "There are still a lot of gaps in the science regarding the sensitivities and specifications. Right now, there are 50 proteins in the coronavirus. Right now, we (the health science community) are testing for multiple proteins, but there's no way to guarantee which protein creates immunity."
He also said antibody testing can only detect antibodies a few weeks after individuals have recovered from COVID-19...