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Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, medical technology company Lucira Health was starting to fine-tune its at-home flu test.
“We found ourselves in January 2020 wondering, wow, we have this platform, should we be looking at COVID-19?” Kelly Brezoczky, executive vice president at Lucira Health, told The Verge. Most of the technology would transfer; it was just a matter of swapping in the coronavirus for the influenza virus.
By November 2020, Lucira had the first US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization for a fully at-home COVID-19 test. If the company had kept working on its flu test, Brezoczky says she’s not sure if it would have been on the market by then. “Our COVID-19 product leapfrogged our first product,” she says.
Before the pandemic, small companies like Lucira and academic research labs were working on shrinking and speeding up tests that could diagnose someone’s viral infection by detecting a virus’s genetic material in a swab from their nose or throat. They wanted to make it possible for these highly accurate tests to be done in a doctor’s office, at the patient bedside, or at home. But for the most part, those systems were in early stages of development. Most of this kind of testing, known as molecular testing, still had to be done in a lab.