Healthineers launches rapid coronavirus antigen test, sees tight supply

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Siemens Healthineers on Wednesday announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe to detect coronavirus infections, but warned that the industry may struggle to meet a surge in demand.

The German group, whose rivals in diagnostics include Roche, Abbott and Becton Dickinson , said its test cassette did not require lab processing and would deliver results in 15 minutes, but that the required nasal swabs would have to be taken by healthcare professionals.

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which scan genetic code for the markers of a virus, are the gold standard for finding infections but are two to three times more expensive than antigen tests and require processing in a lab.

Antigen tests, which look for proteins found on the surface of the virus, cost about 4-5 euros ($5-$6) each, but miss a few percent of the infections that PCR tests would have caught.

Currently, slightly more than 1 million standard PCR tests are performed in Germany every week.

However, public health systems around the world are eager to provide quick diagnostic tools, and test more widely, to help locate hotspots of the pandemic.

Germany’s health ministry last week said it had secured 9 million antigen tests.

The regional state of Bavaria followed up this week with an order for 10 million antigen tests, saying it had options to purchase from Healthineers, Roche and Abbott. It did not give a timeframe for their use.

“The volumes that are being circulated globally are probably at the limits of what manufacturers can currently supply,” a Healthineers spokesman said.

“We are currently in talks with various governments over possible supply orders.”

The United States and Canada are also buying millions of tests, as is Italy, whose recent tender for 5 million tests attracted offers from 35 companies.

Healthineers is also planning to seek approval for a launch in the United States. ($1 = 0.8501 euros)

(Additional reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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