As COVID-19 has rampages its way to killing 400,000 Americans, residents are understandably on edge when they begin to experience symptoms of the virus. COVID-19 symptoms are similar to many viruses and sicknesses, and a negative COVID-19 test does not always bring the certainty some patients may want.
Dallas company GeneIQ has developed a test that can detect COVID-19, two different versions of the flu, and the common cold. The molecular diagnostics laboratory uses the test on those with symptoms, all without the more invasive version of the nasal swab.
When patients have a diagnosis, they can move forward with treatment and possible isolation. A negative COVID-19 test might be accurate, but it also doesn’t tell someone what is causing their symptoms, meaning their next course of action might be the wrong one.
The lab can test 10,000 individuals per day and already serves more than 500 long-term care facilities, physician practices, governments, and corporations across North America.
Part of the decision to create a unique test was to avoid supply chain bottlenecks occurring with supplies for the rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests in the early days, says GenelQ CEO Frank Howard. There has not been a mass movement for a cold or flu test in the past, but with the specter of COVID-19 hanging over every sneeze and cough, patients may want more certainty than just a thumbs up or thumbs down on COVID-19.
The test is part of a larger precision medicine movement, where physicians try to target illnesses rather than throw a bevy of treatment at something and see what sticks. “Even for instances when there was no COVID, it was ‘Let’s prescribe and ask questions later,'” Howard says. “That really made me think – let’s figure out what this is, and let’s prescribe accordingly.”
“The flu never seems to go away. It evolves into different strains, and we’ve seen COVID do that as of late,” Howard says. “It’s not going to be eradicated. It’s going to be around to stay in some form or fashion. We’re going to learn how to manage it and live with it, but it’s not going to be one and done and behind us in a matter of months.”
For GenelQ, the pandemic has meant sixfold growth, increasing from 10 employees pre- pandemic to 60 now. Before, the lab did 5,000-10,000 tests a month, and since COVID-19 testing began, the lab has done around 10,000 tests a day. It has required streamlining, efficiency, and a reliable team, Howard says. For a lab like GenelQ, the achievement includes mixed feelings, as the company, in many ways, owes its growth to a deadly pandemic.
Howard says the innovation required to fight the pandemic has been a silver lining for the industry, including eliminating unnecessary red tape, a vaccine developed in record time, and a highlighting of many gaps in the healthcare system. “It just goes to show what we can do, and where we face adversity, we come up with solutions,” Howard says. “I think this has fast-forwarded healthcare labs, in particular.”