Abbott Laboratories (ABT 2.01%) produces a handful of different diagnostic tests for the coronavirus, but that hasn't stopped it from working to innovate and create new ones. Late in August, Abbott announced its new BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Card diagnostic, which promises to deliver results in 15 minutes for as little as $5 per test. Complete with a smartphone app that lets consumers show off their test results in real time, Abbott's new assay has already gotten the green light from regulatory authorities, so it's ready for sale.
The test has three key advantages that may end up making it the dominant rapid diagnostic in the coronavirus testing market. First, it's exceptionally easy for healthcare professionals to use, and it doesn't require any fancy clinical hardware to process. Second, Abbott's smartphone app is tightly integrated with the test, allowing for auditable proof of non-infection. Finally, the BinaxNOW test is highly sensitive and highly reliable, even though it's inexpensive and quick.
For coronavirus investors, each of these advantages bears closer inspection to understand why it's relevant to Abbott's position in the market.
Ease of use opens the door for new testing strategies
With a typical diagnostic coronavirus test, laboratory hardware is necessary to analyze samples from patients. This is true whether it's a rapid test or whether it's intended to take several hours to process. But this isn't the case with the BinaxNOW. Nearly everything providers need is included on a small test card the size of a credit card. To perform the test, clinicians take a nasal swab from the patient, add an extraction reagent to a slot on the test card, and then place the swab into the test card. Fifteen minutes later, they examine the card, looking for the telltale band of color that would indicate a positive result, like in a pregnancy test.
In short, Abbott's test requires very little hands-on time for healthcare workers, and it doesn't take any time in the laboratory to process. This opens the door to having testing stations without any clinical infrastructure, like at the entrance of a theater or workplace. That's not just significantly more convenient for everyone involved, it also opens up a new frontier in the coronavirus diagnostic market -- one Abbott is the first in line to exploit.
Tracking test results will be good for business
Abbott is keen to expand its presence in the diagnostic market by getting consumers to buy into its testing ecosystem. Because Abbott isn't marketing its BinaxNOW test directly to consumers, it offers something else to get them on board: a test-result tracking application. Though Abbott isn't the first company to link coronavirus test results to a mobile app, it's the first in the U.S. to provide such a seamless degree of integration with the test itself.
With the smartphone application, consumers scan a QR code on the test card to link their test results to the app. Next, they can display their (hopefully negative) test results on demand as needed, represented as a new QR code. The QR code can then be scanned by anyone who wants to confirm that the person's test came back negative. This means that Abbott's test is all the better positioned for point-of-use scenarios, like before boarding an airplane or entering an event where social distancing isn't possible.
When paired with its inexpensive cost, rapid turnaround time, and reliable results, the BinaxNOW has no true peer among the current crop of coronavirus diagnostics made by Abbott's competitors. Indeed, by combining an all-around great, rapid diagnostic with digital results tracking and easy third-party verification, Abbott has created a product that could open the door for a return to a semblance of normalcy in some contexts.
Investors looking to benefit from this opportunity have plenty of time to act. Abbott only has the manufacturing capacity to produce 50 million of the BinaxNOW tests in October, so it will take a couple more months before the full revenue impact will be visible. In the meantime, keep an eye out for any announcements about future innovations based on the BinaxNOW platform. In particular, if Abbott can remove the need for a healthcare worker to take a nasal swab, they'll turn a great diagnostic product into an unbeatable one.