Local companies partner to produce COVID-19 testing program

Novir COVID-19 antibody testing kit.

Last updated on August 19th, 2020 at 11:59 am

Two Milwaukee companies have partnered to manufacture thousands of COVID-19 testing kits locally so that employers can better track the spread of the virus among staff.

Milwaukee-based medical technology company MPE and Novir, a local startup recently launched by former GE Healthcare executive Alexander Kempe, have plans to manufacturer 100,000 antibody testing kits per month.

Unlike PCR “active virus” testing, Novir’s tests will initially focus on rapid antibody testing to show if employees have either immunoglobulin M or immunoglobulin G antibodies in their blood – found in people who have already had COVID-19.

By understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 within the workplace, employers gain valuable insight needed to make smarter decisions about the business as well as the health of their employees.

Antibody testing will add insights as to who has been previously exposed to the virus,” said Craig Loomis, Novir vice president of sales and marketing. “At least employers will have that data to know where they are at.”

Later today, Milwaukee-based Assurance Laboratories will administer these Federal Drug Administration-approved tests to 200 MPE employees. MPE workers will have the results of their tests within 15 minutes, Loomis said.

Starting in November, MPE will produce 100,000 tests per month, slowly ramping up production to 1 million per month by the end of the year if demand increases, Loomis added.

During the pandemic, MPE had four isolated cases of COVID-19 among staff, said MPE vice president of business development. While those cases ultimately affected five or six other employees, MPE did not have to shutdown any production, Zanardo added.

Zanardo says the company has entertained hypothetical scenarios where there was considerable spread among staff. As an essential medical equipment manufacturer, MPE views Novir’s testing as a responsible step as an employer, for employees, and also the community, Zanardo said.

“We’ve seen companies, meat packing and automotive factories that are really struggling right now because they have to shut down such heavy sections of their factory,” Zanardo said. “Being a medical company, we just can’t afford that process.”

The startup’s COVID-19 test for businesses follows a three-step program, which includes an initial screening and then follow up tests seven and 30 days later. Throughout the process, Novir will work with MPE to analyze data and any actionable insights found through testing.

“You need both diagnostic and inexpensive antibody testing to do this right,” Kempe, president of Novir, said in a statement. “Diagnostic testing only tells part of the story. And you can’t rely on symptoms alone to know who has or had the virus. Forget about temperature checks at the door. Those don’t really help you. You need comprehensive testing plans, and we can help solve that at Novir.”

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