A Florida-based medical company wants word out on a highly reliable antibody test for the coronavirus. But it’s not because it will be a hard sell. Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr., CEO of Abacus Pharma International, said the U.S. will need billions of tests in the near future. He spoke with Florida Politics about Sure Bio-Tech API Covid-Rapid and society’s needs in the pandemic.
Your company touted a study that shows the high level of accuracy for the test. Can public health leaders have confidence in antibodies tests in general now for COVID-19?
We have UC San Francisco and Harvard data in a comparative matrix that compares the effectiveness to FDA-approved bigger names. It’s pretty clear based on data we have the best test if not one of the top two or three. There’s a drop-off after the first tier, maybe the first five. After that I would have real concerns about using them in a population. You want to use the best test possible. We may not be able to meet all the population needs of the U.S. and the world, but have to do our best to ensure quality and consistency. The public health people—and businesspeople—need to plan and need to figure out how much they need to buy and how often they need to test people.
Do you think business owners are going to start asking employees to test for COVID-19 before returning to work?
Without question. Would you go back to your workplace without testing? The cost of doing business is going up. It went up after 9/11 in terms of security. Now this cataclysmic event will fundamentally change life. Workers will not just be tested once. They may need to get tested once a week to go into the workplace. It’s unfortunate for sure, and it’s expensive for sure. People will work from home more. Studies in Iceland, with the U.S.S. Roosevelt and in homeless shelters show us 50% to 70% are asymptomatic and are now spreading 90% of the disease. If we are to have any impact or make any dent, if we have any hope of going to work and opening up, we have to implement more testing. Waffle House just announced reopening. Will you eat there without knowing everyone has been tested?
We’ve heard with things like vaccines, that the big delays may come in the massive amount of manufacturing required. How many antibodies tests are going to be needed?
We are going to manufacture 20 million in May, and will drastically scale up in June and July. Honestly, America is going to need billions of tests. We have 330 million Americans. A Harvard study predicted 6 billion, which may be high, but 3 to 4 billion is a very reasonable number. That’s why I don’t need to sell my product. I am selling antibody tests as a platform. But we can’t make billions. We need competitors to be doing that as well. What we need is to convince people of the need for mass asymptomatic screening.
As parts of society reopen, what do people need to prepare for?
We will have targeted shutdowns again, no doubt about it. If we open up, and if we do nothing, it will be overwhelming in six weeks. That has been demonstrated in Wuhan, Milan and New York City. If people wear masks and social distance, we won’t be overwhelmed for 12 to 16 weeks. That will let people make money and get food on on the table. Kids maybe can go back to school. Then we do targeted shutdowns. It’s absurd to shut down the country, but with no data we had no choice. We have to open county by county and industry by industry. If you want to open a hair salon, fine, test everybody who walks through your doors. If you have an office business, have cubicles six feet apart, and test maybe every other week. Gyms I don’t know. Nail salons I’m not sure. But I would open white collar office jobs first.
There’s a hunger for antibodies testing to prove immunity, but the WHO stressed this week that there’s still no evidence you can’t be re-infected with COVID-19. Is that a concern with antibodies tests?
I love the WHO and I love the CDC. I’m an epidemiologist. But for the WHO to say that is misguided and disingenuous. To say there is no evidence is not incorrect. But to say there’s no evidence there’s life in the universe outside of us is also true, but there probably is. To me, you have evidence based on other rotaviruses, and on the flu and every other coronavirus we know about. The question is about how long and about what infection rate invalidates immunity. We don’t know because it’s a new coronavirus, but all others have immunity for about 12 months. We know there’s not a single documented case of reinfection. There’s people who tested positive and then tested positive again but nobody came down with symptoms and needed to be hospitalized. And look at how many millions have been infected. I think it was irresponsible to say that, and trying to pump the brakes on this somewhat. [Note: DeGennerro pointed to reporting on WHO walking back its original statement]
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected today to unroll his plan for reopening Florida. What would you like to see?
I would urge Gov. DeSantis to not open this week. Florida is not ready. We can open things like beaches and parks where there’s natural social distancing. What Gov. [Brian] Kemp did in Georgia is irresponsible. To open gyms, tattoo parlors or anything (like) that will put you in proximity that’s close for a prolonged time. That’s exactly how we know this is spread. So Florida is not ready to open up first. In a couple weeks, we will be able to. We can start with (elective) procedures in hospitals, because we call them elective but realistically that’s needed medical care. Get patients operated on now, and when hospitals get overwhelmed, then stop elective medical procedures. To open beaches next week is okay but beyond that we need a couple weeks. More important than that is if we open without testing and contact tracing, if we do that we will be in the same place in four weeks. It’s an inconvenient scientific fact. One of the reasons we should not open everything yet is we need to put in place testing and contact tracing, and every county needs to beef up their county health departments. The state of Florida has 21.5 million people, so we need 100 million tests on hand or orders coming in. We might open and get away with it for a couple weeks, but if we don’t have testing and contact tracing, we will pay for it on par with what happened in New York.