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Missoula biotech firm joins statewide effort to boost COVID testing capacity

A biotech lab based in Missoula will join the statewide effort to boost its coronavirus testing capacity while providing sample collection kits to Montana schools and healthcare providers.

FYR Diagnostics said this week that it will begin to process COVID-19 tests immediately, joining the state lab and Montana State University in the effort.

Montana also contracts with Mako Diagnostics in North Carolina for testing.

Through our efforts we hope to do our part and reduce the burden of COVID-19 in our community,” said Vikas Ghai, the senior research scientist with FYR Diagnostics. “It’s exciting to be a part of a team that can positively impact the health and safety of the public.”

FYR Diagnostics focuses on the development of next generation tests for the early detection of human and agricultural diseases. But its team of scientists decided to turn the company’s expertise towards helping Montana during the pandemic.

FYR will use a test that was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and is authorized by the FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization. The company said it will process tests in its certified laboratory using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction.

RT-PCR tests are the gold standard for the detection of viral pathogens,” said Chris Booth, CEO and director of Research and Development. “Before the eventual arrival of a vaccine, Montana needs to expand its testing infrastructure to monitor the spread of the COVID-19 virus and prepare for the deployment of the vaccine.”

Early in the pandemic, Montana struggled to acquire and distribute coronavirus testing materials. It also had a shortage of locations capable of running the tests and turning them around in short order.

But the challenges have been resolved over the past few months. MSU joined the testing effort in the summer and the state contracted with Mako Diagnostics in North Carolina to extend its testing abilities.

More than 3,400 tests are now conducted in state on a daily basis. The Missoula City-County Health Department also has employed several Abbott Rapid Diagnostics machines to speed up its testing.

In its announcement, FRY Diagnostics said it will provide preassembled collection kits that are compatible with RT-PCR testing to Montana universities, hospitals, businesses and healthcare providers.

The kits include swabs and transport media that will inactivate viral samples and preserve them at room temperature for safe transport. The samples will then be returned to FYR for rapid processing in Missoula.

“FYR has been instrumental in helping our community,” said Dr. Jay Evans, the CEO of Inimmune, a biotech firm also based in Missoula. “We look forward to continuing to work with FYR to keep our employees safe through this pandemic.”

Inimmune uses FYR Diagnostics for its COVID-19 testing, Evans said.

Other businesses looking for testing can contact FYR Diagnostics at covid19@fyrdiagnostics.com.