The State of the Industry: MDx in 2020

Oct. 22, 2020

As our calendar pages turn to the final months of the year, 2020 will be remembered for many occurrences that left lasting marks on the clinical laboratory industry, with nothing so memorable as the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and subsequent COVID-19 disease. From the first reports of an emerging infectious disease that affected thousands in Wuhan, China, at the end of December 2019, to the growth of global cases that began a rapid climb into the millions, COVID-19 made its presence and severity known with disease-related deaths that have now reached into the millions as well.

As a pandemic that conceivably had no historic equivalent in terms of its transmission speed and number of people affected – both of which still are still increasing – COVID-19 has also moved outside the lab and continues to permeate almost every aspect of daily living around the world. Businesses forced to operate remotely, classrooms that remain empty, and high-risk age groups separated from family are just a few examples of the influence of a disease that offers equal-opportunity infection for people who leave their homes.

For clinical laboratorians, the arrival of COVID-19 disrupted daily procedures and raised already-increased lab testing demands, which served to show how unprepared for a pandemic of COVID-19’s magnitude many labs truly are. Lab managers realized that daily-use personal protection equipment (PPE) and testing supplies previously considered adequate were quickly depleted. They also had difficulty replacing the same items as manufacturers and suppliers struggled to keep pace with patient cases and testing demands.

Because of its pervasiveness in the lab and in the world, molecular diagnostic testing for COVID-19 was an easy choice for our final 2020 State of the Industry quarterly study. In selecting this topic for further research via a survey, Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO) asked our readers about how labs are handling increased testing demands, as well as issues with maintaining PPE and lab safety, and confidence levels in existing COVID-19 tests. Respondents were offered the opportunity to submit commentary on current COVID-19-related challenges facing the clinical lab, with follow-up replies that also looked at targeted areas that may need more attention in the future.

In looking to the near future, optimistic promises of ready-to-use vaccines linger in the air and in the lab. Clinical trials continue to move towards the finish line for five current vaccine candidates with U.S. government backing that are being tested and retested – much like the lab industry itself, in continually increasing lab testing demands. However, waiting at the finish line for the first successful vaccine is a group comprised of eager laboratorians, physicians and various governmental agencies who are anxious to put 2020 and COVID-19 behind them. They all stand ready for the next potential pandemic with more knowledge and hands-on expertise, both painfully gained over the course of the last year, to draw upon to meet the challenges new infectious diseases may present.

I welcome your comments, questions and opinions – please send them to me at [email protected].