16 minutes News

16 Minutes on the News #39: A Faster, Cheaper Test — Will It Really Democratize Coronavirus Testing?

Vineeta Agarwala and Sonal Chokshi

Posted September 2, 2020

In this episode of 16 Minutes, we cover the recent news around the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization approval of Abbott Lab’s latest COVID-19 test, which takes 15 minutes and will cost $5. At that speed and price point — as well as the fact that it doesn’t require lab equipment at point of care — it should definitely increase testing capacity, making it a potential “game changer” in this pandemic… But does it truly democratize coronavirus testing (in an available-to-everyone-everywhere way)? How is and isn’t it like a pregnancy test, and when or how would we be able to administer it everywhere and by anyone?

To help tease apart what’s hype/ what’s real — as is the premise of this show — a16z bio general partner Vineeta Agarwala breaks it all down with host Sonal Chokshi in ~18 minutes. The conversation provides an overview of RT-PCR vs. antigen test types (and differences between “rapid” versions of both); digs into what the data does and doesn’t tell us here; and explains key concepts that everyone needs to know, including the “positive predictive value“, which has implications for widespread detection and testing. Agarwala (who is also a practicing physician) also briefly touches on practical considerations from the clinical perspective… what do we really need when the winter flu season hits?

Articles cited/related reading

Medicine’s Uncomfortable Relationship with Math: Calculating Positive Predictive Value, by Arjun Manrai, Gaurav Bhatia, Judith Strymish, et al, in JAMA Internal Medicine, June 2014