OraSure President & CEO Dr. Stephen Tang speaking to the press at a news conference with Gov. Tom Wolf and members of his administration.
Lehigh Valley company offers promise of rapid COVID-19 test, Wolf administration provides money for development
“Our test has the potential to be a game changer, to better detect and eliminate coronavirus, as we set our goals to test anybody, anywhere, at any time."
(Harrisburg) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s Department of Community and Economic Development is giving over $1 million in grants and tax credits to Lehigh Valley company OraSure, which said Tuesday it is developing a new coronavirus test that could provide results a short time after a patient takes it.
The Wolf administration sees rapid testing as crucial to containing the virus. So far, it remains elusive as the pandemic continues. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania recorded 828 new cases, bringing its total to 120,281.
Pennsylvania health experts are concerned about how long coronavirus tests take to process. Even those most in need of one have to wait at least 24 hours, meaning someone could spread the disease as they wait for a test result.
But that’s where OraSure Technologies, based in Bethlehem, could come in.
The company said it’s ramping up development of a self-administered, at-home antigen test at its Lehigh Valley plant, one that would allow someone to determine if they have an active COVID-19 infection soon after they take it.
CEO Dr. Stephen Tang says it could be ready by the end of the year.
“Our test has the potential to be a game changer, to better detect and eliminate coronavirus, as we set our goals to test anybody, anywhere, at any time,” he said.
Regular molecular testing requires lab processing and can take longer to return results. Tests like the one OraSure is developing don’t go to a lab first — but NPR reports they can be less reliable.
Tang, though, said he’s confident the rapid test his company is developing will hold up to scrutiny. Another test OraSure developed for the Ebola virus has a 95 to 100 percent confidence level, according to an instruction document on file with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Wolf said Tuesday he believes rapid testing like what OraSure is offering is key to improving the process in Pennsylvania. Samples from patients in the commonwealth are taking up to several weeks to yield results.
“This [test] could help us in the future, as we look to the new normal moving forward,” he said, “in terms of making sure that we’re at the place we want to be in terms of total numbers of tests, but the turn-around time is good, the way it’s administered is good.”
OraSure is hoping it can begin rolling out millions of tests by the start of next year., but Tang was scant on details when asked how much the test would cost. He said it would be “affordable” for consumers and public health facilities once it hits the market.
The company already has a firm foothold in the disease testing market, as it manufactures, among other things, saliva collection equipment that’s being used at coronavirus testing centers.
OraSure is also promising to put 177 more people to work in order to get the test developed and produced in that timeframe. In exchange, the commonwealth is giving it a Pennsylvania First grant worth $531,000 and $531,000 in job creation tax credits.
The antigen test it’s developing would still need approval from FDA.