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April 21, 2020

IDEXX works on test for coronavirus in humans, after launching one for pets

File photo IDEXX is headquartered in Westbook, but operates a Georgia subsidiary that is developing a test for the novel coronavirus in humans.

A Maine company best known for diagnostic testing of animals may soon produce a test for coronavirus in people.

A subsidiary of Westbrook-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc. (Nasdaq: IDXX) is working in “an early stage” to develop a human test that could detect the virus causing COVID-19, according to a news release Monday.

The subsidiary, OPTI Medical Systems, of Roswell, Ga., has validated a molecular test that draws on the parent company’s expertise in developing and manufacturing similar tests for livestock, IDEXX said in the release.

OPTI Medical intends to eventually distribute the test to its customers, but a spokeswoman for IDEXX would not say when or how many tests might be available. The company also refused to provide more information about how the test was validated.

OPTI Medical manufactures blood-gas analyzers and related supplies used routinely in hospital emergency departments and operating rooms. The testing equipment utilizes optical sensors to measure levels of chemicals such as carbon dioxide in a patient’s blood. That technology is unrelated to recently developed coronavirus tests, which rely on a molecular process called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.

IDEXX, however, has developed a wide range of PCR tests for detecting disease in animals. In March, the company launched a PCR test for coronavirus in pets and is now marketing it to veterinarians for use with animals that meet specific criteria.

Tests are beginning to be shipped this week, IDEXX said in the news release. Only a few cases of COVID-19 have ever been reported in animals, and there is no evidence they can infect humans with the disease. However, IDEXX President and CEO Jay Mazelsky said in the release, “It became clear offering the test was the right thing to do when we saw clinical evidence that pets — especially cats and ferrets — can in rare cases be at risk for infection.”

The company said in the release it doesn't expect the animal test production to affect human testing or test availability.

Animal tests make up the bulk of the company’s business. In 2019, IDEXX reported net revenue of $2.4 billion, with revenue from OPTI Medical accounting for $22 million of that total. IDEXX acquired OPTI Medical in 2007 for $45 million from a British diagnostics business, Osmetech plc.

Osmetech was later purchased by GenMark Diagnostics Inc. (Nasdaq: GNMK), a California company that in March received emergency federal approval for its COVID-19 test — in humans.

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