Scientist Linqi Zhang shows a tube with a solution containing COVID-19 antibodies in his lab where he works on research into novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antibodies for possible use in a drug at Tsinghua University in Beijing

Reuters

Abbott Laboratories is rolling out a new test that can tell whether people have had the novel coronavirus, starting this week. 

The test detects antibodies that your body creates to fight off the virus.

Abbott is among the biggest healthcare companies to enter the US market for antibody tests so far, and the company is gearing up to produce millions of tests.

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Abbott Laboratories is rolling out a new test that can tell whether people have had the novel coronavirus.

The test detects antibodies that your body creates to fight off the virus, and Abbott said it’ll be able to ship almost 1 million of the tests this week, according to a company announcement.

They’ll be shipped to laboratories across the country and used with Abbott equipment many of them already possess, according to the company. The machines can run 100-200 tests per hour. 

Abbott said it plans to be able to produce 4 million tests in April and 20 million in June. The company didn’t immediately respond to question from Business Insider about the accuracy of the tests or where they’ll be sent.

Abbott is among the biggest healthcare companies to produce antibody tests so far, according to data compiled by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins. With the ability to make up to 20 million tests by the summer, Abbott could bring some relief to a market crowded with unverified kits and international manufacturers with less ability to scale. 

Read more: Tests that can tell if you’re immune to the coronavirus are on the way. Here are the companies racing to bring them to the US healthcare system.

Detecting virus ‘months and possibly years’ after exposure

Antibody tests, otherwise known as serology tests, find antibodies in the blood designed to fight off infection. People can produce them after coming into contact with the coronavirus, even if they never develop symptoms.

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Other types of diagnostics on the market look for current infections, typically by collecting samples from the airways, and looking for signs of the coronavirus. Abbott, for instance, has a test that can tell in about 15 minutes whether someone is currently infected with the coronavirus.

Experts say antibody tests are key for letting people out of their homes again, returning quarantined healthcare workers to the front lines, and measuring large swaths of the population for potential immunity. The tests could help government officials figure out when it makes sense to ease lockdowns. 

Abbott’s tests will look for the IgG antibody, a protein produced in the body’s secondary immune response. It lasts for “months and possibly years” after a person’s been exposed, according to the company. 

Additional testing that identifies the IgM antibody, which is produced immediately after exposure, is underway, Abbott said in a statement.

CDC and NIH are working on antibody testing efforts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed its own antibody tests and intends to deploy them for larger surveys in the coming weeks, said Scott Pauley, a press officer, in a statement to Business Insider.

Its community transmission studies, which began last month, will soon include the blood tests in more areas with high numbers of people with diagnosed infections, he said. The CDC declined to offer more details about who would be tested and in what quantity. 

The National Institutes of Health is enrolling up to 10,000 people in its own antibody study, designed to figure out how many people have really been exposed to the coronavirus. Several academic medical centers are launching immunity studies that mostly pertain to healthcare workers. State health departments including those in New York and California are looking into serology programs as well. 

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