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UPDATED: OraSure expanding Bethlehem operations to meet demand for COVID-19 test

Dr. Stephen Tang, president and CEO of OraSure in Bethlehem, announces plans to expand to meet the demand for the company’s COVID-19 antigen test.

 

With a COVID-19 antigen test nearly ready for market, Bethlehem’s OraSure is poised for a big expansion in which it plans to invest more than $7 million to ramp up production.

Stephen Tang, president and CEO of Orasure, told Lehigh Valley Business the company expects to add 177 employees to the payroll, largely in manufacturing, quality control and regulatory affairs.

That nearly doubles OraSure’s employment. The company currently has more than 200 employees.

OraSure expects to have an in-home COVID-19 antigen test on the market by the fourth quarter of the year. The test will determine if a person has been infected with the virus quickly and easily, he said.

“This is an all hands on deck process to get to market,” Tang said. “It’s going to be a step up for us.”

OraSure is also developing a highly accurate, lab-based Antibody ELISA Test that would detect prior COVID-19 infection. The company plans to submit the ELISA test to the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization.

Tang joined Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine at a press conference in Harrisburg this morning where Wolf unveiled a funding package that the Governor’s Action Team put together to help OraSure with the expansion.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development has offered a $531,000 Pennsylvania First grant and $531,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits to be distributed upon creation of the new jobs. The company may also be eligible for the Manufacturing Tax Credit  program and the Research and Development Tax Credit program.

The company has pledged to invest $7.5 million in the project.

OraSure already manufactures similar tests, including rapid HIV and Hepatitis C tests. The COVID-19 test is being developed on the same platform.

Levine said the company’s experience will help it produce a highly accurate test, that she called “a game changer” in the fight against COVID-19.

The tests can be conducted by an untrained person in a home or office. Results will ready in about 15 minutes. Levine said that will help with getting an infected person immediate treatment and will assist greatly in contact tracing.

Tang said OraSure is used to making tens of millions of tests for the global market each year, and Tang says they are estimating that they will need to produce 30 million COVID-19 tests per week to keep up with the expected demand.

“This is a formidable project for us,” he said.

He said OraSure hopes to have 30 million tests manufactured and on the market in the fourth quarter of this year, 55 million by the first quarter of 2021 and 70 million by the second quarter.

Earlier this year OraSure received nearly $630,000 to help develop the test for coronavirus antibodies.

The funds come from a contract with the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

 

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at swescoe@bridgetowermedia.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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