New public-private partnership expected to double Wisconsin’s COVID-19 testing capacity

Exact Sciences, Promega to bolster state's testing capacity

Madison-based Exact Sciences produces a non-invasive colon cancer screening test.

Last updated on March 31st, 2020 at 02:25 pm

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced on Monday a new public-private partnership that is expected to double the state’s current COVID-19 testing capacity.

Under the partnership, labs operated by Madison-based Exact Sciences Corp., Marshfield Clinic Health System, Madison-based Promega Corp. and UW Health will join an existing network of labs to bolster the state’s testing capacity.

The state’s current network of labs – which includes Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene in Madison and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab – completes an average of 1,500 to 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day. Wisconsin Diagnostic Lab at Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Advocate Aurora Health and Gundersen Health Systems have been processing COVID-19 tests prior to today’s partnership.

“The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab should be commended for the tremendous lift they have done over the past few weeks to rapidly bring these tests online,” Evers said. “And I want to especially extend my gratitude to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene for going above and beyond to expand testing capacity within the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, and ensure Wisconsin does not have a backlog of COVID-19 tests.

“I also want to thank the Wisconsin Diagnostic Lab at Froedtert, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Gundersen Health Systems, and Aurora Health Care for their early work and continued leadership. But even with these combined efforts, unfortunately, we know all too well that as this disease spreads there will be significant pressure on our labs to keep pace with testing.”

Exact Sciences – a fast-growing company that produces Cologuard, a noninvasive, at-home colon cancer screening test – is repurposing some of its equipment and reconfiguring some lab space for COVID-19 testing. In 2019, it opened a new 169,000-square-foot clinical laboratory and warehouse in Madison, which brought its total annual Cologuard processing capacity to 7 million tests.

“We look forward to applying the lessons we’ve learned in the ongoing fight against cancer to help bring an end to this public health crisis,” said Kevin Conroy, chairman and chief executive officer Exact Sciences.

Promega, which manufactures enzymes and other products for biotechnology and molecular biology, is providing the reagents needed for COVID-19 tests.

“As needed, Promega scientists and engineers will help fine-tune methods on robots and instrumentation, allowing for high-throughput testing,” said Bill Linton, chief executive officer. “Promega began scaling up reagent manufacturing in January to address global needs, and has maintained accelerated production since then. Operations teams continue to work on ways to expand production to further meet unprecedented demand.”

Even with new labs coming online, the state still faces testing supplies shortages.

“The rapid spread of COVID-19 in other parts of the country and world are making these important supplies scarce, but with our new partners, and through the state’s ongoing efforts to obtain these materials from the federal government and through the private market, we are working day and night to reinforce our sources of these supplies,” Evers said.

There were 1,112 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 13 confirmed deaths in Wisconsin as of Sunday afternoon.

Those seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor. The labs are not testing sites.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.