Manufacturers are rushing to ramp up fast COVID test production as demand grows: NPR

Manufacturers are rushing to ramp up fast COVID test production as demand grows: NPR


MediaFrolic’s Adrian Florido speaks with Estela Raychaudhuri, President of InBios International, about the challenges facing coronavirus rapid test kit manufacturers amid the current surge.



ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

The hottest good of the new year could be the rapid COVID-19 tests for the home. In the midst of the current wave of infections, the demand for the tests has increased. And if you can find them, major retailers like CVS, Walmart, and Amazon have restrictions on what you can buy. Given the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the tests have become an important tool for people who want to find out quickly whether they have become infected. And last month the Biden administration announced its plan to distribute 500 million rapid tests to Americans who request them. This, and wider consumer demand, has led test manufacturers to ramp up production quickly.

To find out what that looks like and how it works, we called the market leader of a test manufacturer. Estella Raychaudhuri is President of InBios International, based in Seattle. Estella Raychaudhuri, thank you for joining us today.

ESTELLA RAYCHAUDHURI: Thank you for having me.

FLORIDO: Your company has tried to ramp up production of these rapid tests in the last few weeks. How many tests did you do before the demand increased and what are your goals now?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Well, we only recently received emergency clearance from the FDA for our testing. It’s been a little over a month. And so we went to work to get all of our materials, our printed materials, ready. Our production goals are 2 million tests per week. And then we want to scale up to 5 to 10 million very quickly in the next month or so.

FLORIDO: So what did you do to make sure you got there?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Well, we’ve hired a lot. We ordered more raw materials and worked with a few other groups to do some of the contract manufacturing to do some of our final makeup on our product. These are just some of the steps we’re taking to make sure we can ramp up and meet demand.

FLORIDO: We heard about the supply chain problems that have plagued our country for months. Do they influence the achievement of these goals?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Yes, they are. Of course we have some raw materials that we thought would last for another month depending on demand. But the main problem we see is that there is a long lead time to receive items like swabs or even printed material. Therefore, in some cases, there is a 12 week lead time to receive certain raw materials.

FLORIDO: Are there things you think the government could do to help companies like yours get these tests up and running faster?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Yes. They can help the raw material suppliers so they can provide us with the materials faster and prioritize companies that do these tests. Some of our suppliers have told us that there was a 12 week lead time. But if the government made us a priority they would send us the raw materials before other requests, as well as the government telling us in advance, like, OK, we will buy X of these tests from you in a timely manner so that we can scale and produce them be able.

FLORIDO: Well, in the summer there were reports that a large manufacturer of rapid tests not only shut down production when demand for the tests began to decline last year, they even destroyed some of their inventory and laid off workers as well. You run a for-profit company. How do you plan in the medium and long term, how many employees you need, how much space you need to rent, how many raw materials you need to order?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Yes. This is a very difficult situation that, in my opinion, all rapid test manufacturers experience. So we have to weigh the risks. And so we actually look at a six-month horizon in our company. So we’re planning for the next six months. Furthermore, we do not know how things will be. And so we’re not going to buy tests that – provided the increase is no matter how big a year from now. I think that would be too risky.

FLORIDO: What do you think will be required for the rapid test supply in the US to actually meet demand? What are the next steps that have to happen in our country?

RAYCHAUDHURI: Well I think our government needs to keep giving testing priority so that manufacturers like ours continue to have the incentive and less risk of investing in raw materials to run these tests so they don’t get stuck in our warehouse, you know, not bought if the increase is falling sharply. It will be of great help if the government were to secure a certain amount of this so we know for sure that investments are going to be sold.

FLORIDO: That was Estella Raychaudhuri, President of InBios International. Ms. Raychaudhuri, thank you for your visit and a happy new year.

RAYCHAUDHURI: Thank you. Happy New Years to you.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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