Roche CEO: supply can’t meet demands for mass Covid-19 testing

The Swiss pharma giant has been one of the key players in Covid-19 diagnostics since the start of the pandemic. © Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

Severin Schwan, CEO of Swiss pharma giant Roche, has warned that the demand for Covid-19 tests still outstrips supply, making more broad-based testing challenging.

This content was published on December 8, 2020 - 17:42

“It is very likely that vaccines will only be broadly available later next year so I expect the demand to outstrip supply for a number of months and even beyond then,” Schwan said in a briefing to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA).

Since the start of the pandemic, Roche has been a major developer of tests to detect and diagnose Covid-19. It has received Emergency Use Authorization from the US authorities for its PCR diagnostic as well as antibodies tests, while it has also developed a test to differentiate between flu and Covid-19 strains.

Schwan said it will be important even beyond the pandemic to use testing to distinguish between diseases showing similar symptoms, such as influenza.

Targeted vs mass testing

While some neighbouring countries such as Austria have pushed for more widespread testing, Switzerland has up to now encouraged testing only for people showing Covid-19 symptoms. A few days ago, Graubünden became the first canton to launch a pilot programme to conduct mass testing of residents as part of its measures to shore up the ski season. 

Schwan acknowledged that testing more broadly offers an opportunity to open up the economy but said the quantities are simply not available. “It is important that testing is prioritised. First, we need to take care of symptomatic patients and healthcare workers. Only if volumes allow for broader testing, should we go in this direction,” he said during the briefing.

SWISS international airlines announced at the end of September that it would start testing passengers on certain flights with tests developed by Roche.

Although PCR tests remain the gold standard in Covid-19 testing, Schwan said that rapid antigen tests can be produced at much larger scale – which could open the door for broader coverage of the population.

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