Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. announced Wednesday that its scientists are working with the Indiana State Department of Health to speed up analysis of COVID-19 tests collected in the state.
State officials have taken sharp criticism in the last week for the slow pace of testing. Through Tuesday, the department of health had conducted 193 tests, out of which 39 were presumed positive.
In the state of New York, about 10,000 people had been tested as of Tuesday morning.
Lilly officials said its scientists will use company research laboratories to analyze samples taken in Indiana health care facilities, including nursing homes and emergency rooms.
Lilly said it expected to ramp up capacity quickly, making about 1,000 tests a day available here within a week, and eventually up to a peak of 2,000 tests a day, depending on the availability of chemicals, called reagents, which are used in the testing process.
The drugmaker also said it was exploring the idea of setting up one or more drive-through testing facilities, as some other cities are doing. Lilly said it was too early to talk about locations, hours or how they would work, including whether people would need a doctor’s note to qualify for a test.
The drive-through concept would take the crunch off of hospital emergency rooms, which currently do the bulk of the tests, but which requires numerous safeguards to hospital personnel, including suiting up with protective gear each time a patient with suspected symptoms pulls in to be tested.
Dr. Kris Box, the Indiana State Health Commissioner, said the benefit to a drive-through operation is that it would allow health workers to conserve their protective gear, which they can wear continuously.
But the downside is if the state and Lilly test a lot of people who are mildly ill and “don’t potentially need to be tested,” that could waste resources that should be used on the highest-risk people who need the tests, she said.
“So we’re all trying to strike the right balance here to make sure we are testing the right population and accurate test those that need to be tested,” she said.
Assuming the company can continuously access chemicals needed to conduct the tests, Lilly’s assistance “should start to expand the state’s ability to conduct testing and receive a timely diagnosis of individuals who suspect they may be carrying the virus,” according to a media release.
“As Lilly’s testing capacity expands, Lilly and ISDH will work together to maximize the impact of broader testing,” the company said.
Lilly CEO Dave Ricks said the firm was shouldering the cost of its activities on its own and would not accept funding from government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies or patients.
He said this could be the most significant partnership on helping to address a public health crisis since Lilly created a partnership in the 1950s with Jonas Salk on a polio vaccine. At that time, Lilly built industrial-scale capacity to make the vaccine widely available, he said.