Also listed by Forbes was Anne Wojcicki, CEO and founder of 23andMe, a personal genomics and biotechnology company. Wojcicki’s net worth of $1.1 billion puts her in the 25th position, according to Forbes.
“I think that what will happen is that a few of them will do very well. And the majority of them won’t. “It’s not us as much as the health systems who have to respond to the patient saying, ‘Send my data here,’ or ‘Send my data there,’” Faulkner told Forbes.
Bio-Rad’s Alice Schwartz an IVD ‘Pioneer’
As Faulkner rose to prominence in healthcare IT, Alice Schwartz of Bio-Rad Laboratories found massive success in the in vitro diagnostics industry.
She and her late husband, David, started Bio-Rad with $720 in 1952 in Berkeley, Calif. They were intent on offering life science products and services aimed at identifying, separating, purifying, and analyzing chemical and biological materials, notes the company’s website.
Bio-Rad Laboratories (NYSE:BIO and BIOb) of Hercules, Calif., offers life science research and clinical diagnostic products. The company’s second quarter (Q2) 2021 net sales were $715.9 million, an increase of about 33% compared to $536.9 million in Q2 2020, according to a news release. Its Clinical Diagnostics segment Q2 sales were $380 million, an increase of 34% compared to 2020.
Norman Schwartz, the founders’ son, is Bio-Rad’s Chairman of the Board,
President, and CEO. However, at age 94, Alice Schwartz, the oldest person on Forbes’ richest self-made women list, “has no sign of stopping soon,” IBT reported.
Lists are fun. Medical laboratory and diagnostics professionals may admire such foresight and perseverance. Judith Faulkner and Alice Schwartz are extraordinary examples of innovative thinkers in healthcare. There are others—many in clinical laboratories and pathology groups.
One medical testing company was led by a convicted felon, another was accused of delays and unreliable results
Like many states, Florida has worked hard to quickly ramp up diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness. For the most part this has been a good thing. However, local media in that state reported problems with two no-bid contracts for clinical laboratory testing, including one with a Dallas-based company whose founder pleaded guilty last year to two felonies involving insurance fraud.
In a press conference announcing the two deals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “We have two contracts in place with two new labs that will increase our lab capacity by 18,000 samples per day.” He added that he expected a 24- to 48-hour turnaround.
“That’s a lot better than we’ve been getting from Quest and LabCorp,” he said. “These labs will be primarily where we send our samples that we collect in the long-term-care and assisted-living facilities and at the community-based walk-up sites.”
The announcement followed DeSantis’ March 9 emergency decree, which allowed state agencies to award contracts to companies without undergoing formal bidding processes, reported Florida Bulldog, an independent non-profit news site.
In his announcement, DeSantis did not identify the companies that had received the lab test contracts. However, Florida Bulldog reported that those companies were:
Southwest Regional PCR, a CAP-accredited lab in Lubbock, Texas, that does business as MicroGenDX Laboratory (MicroGen Diagnostics, LLC).
The Indur contract—initially valued at $11.3 million—included $10.2 million for 140,000 COVID-19 RT-qPCR test kits, plus additional payment for supplies, Florida Bulldog reported based on information from the state contract database. Later, the contract was reduced to $2.2 million solely for supplies.
The MicroGenDX contract—valued at $11 million—called for 8,000 tests per day for 14 days at a cost of $99 per test, Florida Bulldog reported. That contract was later cancelled due to concerns about reliability and processing speed.
Indur’s Legal Troubles
Indur is a self-described “health and wellness lifestyle and products company” founded in 2017 by Brandt Beal, according to Business Insider. In 2019, Beal pleaded guilty to two felonies involving insurance fraud in Texas and was given 10 years’ probation in each case, Florida Bulldog reported. He also was required to pay restitution. He pleaded guilty to a separate charge of felony theft in 2017 and was sentenced to nine years’ probation.
In an interview with Florida Bulldog, Beal claimed that “the man who pleaded guilty to those charges is actually his cousin with the same name.” However, Beal “would not provide requested contact information for his cousin,” the Florida Bulldog reported, which posted photos demonstrating that the Indur founder and the person who pleaded guilty to the felonies were the same individual.
The amended contract, valued at $2.2 million, called for Indur to deliver swabs and vials. “To date, everything that’s been ordered they’ve delivered on,” said Jared Moskowitz, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management department.
Testing Delays Snag MicroGen Diagnostics
The state cancelled its contract with MicroGenDX on May 15, Florida Bulldog reported.
“As with any lab, we do our due diligence to ensure the company will be able to provide reliable services before sending any samples,” said Jason Mahon, Communications Director at the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Upon further interaction with this vendor, the Division determined that the state could not be 100% confident in the results that would come from this vendor, or with the processing speed, which is critical for COVID-19 testing.”
This came as AdventHealth, a non-profit health system based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., was having its own difficulties with MicroGenDX.
On May 16, AdventHealth announced that it had terminated a COVID-19 testing contract with an unnamed third-party lab, claiming that the provider was “unable to fulfill its obligation.” Multiple media outlets later revealed MicroGenDX as the third-party lab, and USA Today reported that the FDA had launched an investigation.
“This issue impacts more than 25,000 people throughout Central Florida,” stated an AdventHealth press release. “This situation has created unacceptable delays and we do not have confidence in the reliability of the tests.” AdventHealth said it would contact affected individuals about the need for retesting.
However, MicroGenDX CEO Rick Martin refuted the health system’s claims. “You can go after me because I didn’t meet your capacity and I couldn’t deliver on your drive-through testing because of things that I couldn’t control, but don’t attack the reliability of my test,” he told the Orlando Sentinel.
According to MicroGenDX, the company received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA on April 23 for an internally-developed RT-PCR test that can be performed on nasal swabs or sputum samples, noted a press release. The tests are run in the company’s lab facility in Lubbock, Texas.
One factor in the dispute was the handling of patient samples, USA Today reported. Martin told reporters that representatives from AdventHealth had visited the lab and observed samples that were stored at room temperature. “[Martin] maintains the samples were still valid and that the delays were due to AdventHealth not providing proper patient data and the lab running out of plastic parts used in its equipment,” noted USA Today.
Mahon told Florida Bulldog that the state did not send samples to MicroGenDX for processing. And the Florida Bulldog reported that Martin said his lab was so “hammered with huge volumes of samples” that he would have turned down any requests, adding that Martin “stood by the reliability and accuracy of his firm’s testing and said he looks forward to a day of vindication after federal inspectors conduct any inquiries.”
Collectively, these news stories scratch the surface of a bigger situation involving COVID-19 laboratory testing. The fact that Congress authorized billions of dollars to fund COVID-19 testing was noticed by some individuals who saw the funding as an opportunity to “make a quick buck” if they could get contracts to provide COVID-19 testing—whether they owned a CLIA-certified complex laboratory or not.
Thus, it’s no surprise that more companies are bidding on COVID-19 testing contracts. What remains unknown is how many of those companies are actively soliciting COVID-19 testing contracts throughout the United States.
Given this situation, and the facts recounted above, it is reasonable to ask an obvious question: Why did Florida state officials not do a more rigorous check into the credentials of the clinical laboratory entities they were preparing to award no-competitive-bid contracts to for COVID-19 testing?
Many other healthcare systems also are partnering with private genetic testing companies to pursue research that drive precision medicine goals
It is certainly unusual when a major health network announces that it will give away free genetic tests to 10,000 of its patients as a way to lay the foundation to expand clinical services involving precision medicine. However, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should consider this free genetic testing program to be the latest marketplace sign that acceptance of genetic medicine continues to move ahead.
Notably, it is community hospitals that are launching this
new program linked to clinical laboratory research that uses genetic tests for
specific, treatable conditions. The purpose of such genetic research is to
identify patients who would benefit from test results that identify the best
therapies for their specific conditions, a core goal of precision medicine.
Clinical laboratory leaders will be interested in this
initiative, as well other partnerships between healthcare systems and private
genetic testing companies aimed at identifying and enrolling patients in
research studies for disease treatment protocols and therapies.
The Future of Precision Medicine
Modern Healthcare reported that data from the WholeMe DNA study, which was funded through donations to the AdventHealth Foundation, also will be used by the healthcare network for research beyond FH, as AdventHealth develops its genomics services. The project’s cost is estimated to reach $2 million.
“Genomics is the future of medicine, and the field is rapidly evolving. As we began our internal discussions about genomics and how to best incorporate it at AdventHealth, we knew research would play a strong role,” Wes Walker MD, Director, Genomics and Personalized Health, and Associate CMIO at AdventHealth, told Becker’s Hospital Review.
“We decided to focus on familial hypercholesterolemia
screening initially because it’s a condition that is associated with
life-threatening cardiovascular events,” he continued. “FH is treatable once
identified and finding those who have the condition can lead to identifying
other family members who are subsequently identified who never knew they had
The AdventHealth Orlando website states that participants in the WholeMe study receive information stored in a confidential data repository that meets HIPAA security standards. The data covers ancestry and 22 other genetic traits, such as:
Asparagus Odor Detection
Cilantro Taste Aversion
Endurance vs Power
Exercise Impact on Weight
Hair Curl and Texture
Hand Grip Strength
Tan vs. Sunburn
Those who test positive for a disease-causing FH variant will be referred by AdventHealth for medical laboratory blood testing, genetic counseling, and a cardiologist visit, reported the Ormond Beach Observer.
One in 250 people have FH, and 90% of them are undiagnosed,
according to the FH Foundation,
which also noted that children have a 50% chance of inheriting FH from parents
with the condition.
AdventHealth plans to expand the free testing beyond central
Florida to its 46 other hospitals located in nine states, Modern Healthcare
Other Genetics Data Company/Healthcare Provider Partnerships
Business Insider noted that Helix has focused on clinical partnerships for about a year and seems to be filling a niche in the genetic testing market.
“Helix is able to sidestep the costs of direct-to-consumer
marketing and clinical test development, while still expanding its customer
base through predefined hospital networks. And the company is in a prime
position to capitalize on providers’ interest in population health management,”
Business Insider reported.
Color also offers genetic testing and whole genome sequencing services to NorthShore’s DNA10K program, which plans to test 10,000 patients for risk for hereditary cancers and heart diseases, according to news release.
And, Jefferson Health offered Color’s genetic testing to the healthcare system’s 33,000 employees, 10,000 of which signed up to learn their health risks as well as ancestry, a Color blog post states.
“Understanding the genome warning signals of every patient will be an essential part of wellness planning and health management,” said Geisinger Chief Executive Officer David Feinberg, MD, when he announced the new initiative at the HLTH (Health) Conference in Las Vegas. “Geisinger patients will be able to work with their family physician to modify their lifestyle and minimize risks that may be revealed,” he explained. “This forecasting will allow us to provide truly anticipatory healthcare instead of the responsive sick care that has long been the industry default across the nation.”
It will be interesting to see how and if genetic tests—free
or otherwise—will advance precision medicine goals and population health
treatments. It’s important for medical laboratory leaders to be involved in health
network agreements with genetic testing companies. And clinical laboratories should
be informed whenever private companies share their test results data with
patients and primary care providers.