Disease crisis turns up pressure on analytical labs

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags coronavirus Testing

The COVID-19 crisis is placing an additional burden on testing labs as companies scramble to meet consumer demand for immune health products.

Elan Sudberg, CEO of Alkemist Labs based in Garden Grove, CA, said his lab is being inundated with samples for testing, but is not yet swamped.

“As of yesterday business is booming,”​ Sudberg told NutraIngredients-USA.  “It’s more samples than I’ve seen in a long time.  We’ve been getting nearly double our typical volume, but I wouldn’t say we are at maximum output yet.”

With more volume comes greater efficiency

Sudberg said some efficiencies can come along with increased volume.  More batching can be done, as equipment could be set up to run a number of similar analyses for different customers, whereas the same amount of setup work is done for individual samples during slower times. 

 But he said a limit will quickly be reached on efficiency gains and subsequent volume increases will only be achieved with overtime shifts, which he said he is considering.

Sudberg said the additional volumes are directed mostly at ingredients that could go into supplements making immune support claims.  The uncertainty about what do to best combat the virus leaves people trying to be as prepared as they can.

“In times of uncertainty is seems people reach out for any aid they can,” ​he said. “We got in a bunch of elderberry samples last week.  The interest is in anything that might have to do with immune boosting.”

James Neal Kababick, founder of Flora Research Labs in Grants Pass, OR, said his lab is getting much busier, too. 

“A lot of clients are rapidly going into backorder on some of their products and are needing a little more help getting them out on the market faster.  That has created a demand for us as the call for additional testing. It’s mostly products that relate to immunity and health maintenance,”​ he said.

Are analytical labs ‘essential’ businesses?

The six-county San Francisco Bay region recently issued a ‘shelter in place’ order which mandates that people remain in their homes except for essential trips. New York City is also reportedly considering such a move and other municipalities are sure to follow. Most business are closed as well, with hundreds of thousands of people working from home who otherwise would be going to offices every day.  Only ‘essential’ businesses can remain open, which includes grocery stores, gas stations and, obviously, heath care facilities.

If those orders extend to places where analytical labs are located, will those labs be considered ‘essential’ businesses?  Analytical lab employees obviously can’t work from home. While some of the those distinctions are up in the air and officials are having to some extent make things up as they go along, for Sudberg the answer is clearly yes.

“We are a gatekeeper for quality to this industry and anyone who wants to make a quality product.  We are a critically necessary and federally mandated step in the chain of custody.  If our clients can’t use our services they technically can’t make their products in a compliant manner.  I do believe we are essential,” ​Sudberg said.

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