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'This is really a game changer': Dr. Soren Christiansen on Abbott's rapid coronavirus test

Dr. Soren Christiansen, former Head of Vaccines at Merck and CEO of Sharps Technology, joined The Final Round to discuss the latest developments regarding a COVID-19 vaccine and his thoughts on the FDA approving Abbott's rapid coronavirus test.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's get to another big story of the day. We talk about all these factors that are influencing the market. One, we had the Fed, but then we also had this big announcement out from Abbott. And we saw the reaction in Abbot's shares today, the stock up almost 8% on this news. Now, the news coming that Abbott has now gained FDA authorization for a $5 rapid coronavirus test.

Now, here to talk a little bit more about this and also finding a COVID-19 vaccine, I want to bring in Dr. Soren Christiansen, former Head of Vaccines at Merck. He's now the CEO of Sharps Technology. And we also have Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani joining the conversation.

And Dr. Christiansen, let's just talk about this test, I mean, the fact that it can produce results in 15 minutes. It doesn't require lab equipment. Abbott saying that it's going to be able to produce 50 million a month by October. How big of a game changer is this?

SOREN CHRISTIANSEN: Yeah, to me this is really a game changer. So you pointed out a couple of points with this test. So access should not be a problem. They have promised to manufacture 50 million per months.

Timing should not be a problem. And I would add that the accuracy of the test, as far as I've been watching, is 98%. So it's very reliable. So when you get the results, you can basically trust that you are positive or you are negative. So this is really fantastic to me.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, Dr. Christiansen, I also think this speaks to the broader issue here, and that, of course, is the fact that the testing in this country is not at the level at what it needs to be. And we're still-- this obviously is a step in the right direction. But a lot of the tests that are out and available right now, they're simply taking too long for people to get the results back. When do you expect the US to get to the testing level needed to get the pandemic under control?

SOREN CHRISTIANSEN: I think this-- this news from Abbott could really take this to a new level. So- so to me, testing is critically important. I mean, when you test more people, you get more people infected, you know, announced as well. But testing, I think-- I think it differs a lot from-- from state to state, even within the different states, what-- what is the testing capacity.

I mean, you need to-- in some instances, you need to wait to get an appointment with a hospital where you can get tested. And then it takes often three, four, five days before you get the result, where in that-- in that period of time, you could potentially infect other people unless you quarantine yourself. So I think, you know, the timing, 15 minutes to get the results, a lot of tests available, a reasonable price, I think this is-- this could really be a game changer.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Doctor, when you say game changer, how do you think a rapid test changes the approach by which we fight the virus in the US? You look at schools, for example. I was just looking at numbers in Florida, 9,000 students who've been infected since schools began. But the argument has always been that if you can find out on that day how-- you know, how many of these students have the virus, then that would be one way to safely reopen schools.

SOREN CHRISTIANSEN: Yeah, so I still believe that one of the best activities to do is to wear a mask. That is point number one. And I could imagine, as well, with this rapid result that you could let people into sporting events again. You know, you have to show up early, but if you had enough-- enough people to test the spectators that could be fantastic as well. And schools, universities, colleges, I think this-- this is something that could give us a little bit of a more normal life back.

RICK NEWMAN: Dr. Christiansen, hi, Rick Newman. So the Trump administration said it wants to buy 150 million of these tests. So if you just do the simple math, Abbott can produce about 50 million per month. The government wants to buy, essentially, the first three months' worth of production.

That's basically monopolizing purchase and then, I guess, distribution of the tests. Does that sound like the right approach to you? Is that better than dispensing these into different health care systems directly and that kind of thing?

SOREN CHRISTIANSEN: That's a good point. I don't know if this is the right approach. I mean, you see the same approach with the vaccine candidates that are in development, that governments, not only in the United States, but-- but across the globe, they lock in vaccine manufacturers to be sure that they have enough vaccine when-- when hopefully it shows it's safe and efficacious, then they have locked in a lot of vaccine.

So UK, as an example, they have currently locked in 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from three different companies. And that's with a population of 65, 67 million. So I think we will see the same with a vaccine when that becomes available, as we see now with tests, that all governments, they try to get-- access as much as they can to make sure that their inhabitants can be tested or vaccinated. That will be a big issue, I think, when the vaccine becomes available.

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Dr. Christiansen, just real quick, what do you think is a realistic timeline for when a vaccine will be available, just at the scale that you were just talking about that it needs to be? Because I think that's the big issue, and that's the question that a lot of people have been struggling to answer up until this point.

SOREN CHRISTIANSEN: Yes, so I believe the most advanced in the United States is Moderna's vaccine. They're currently running a clinical phase III program, where they include 30,000 people. They will report out at the end of October.

So if that turns out to be positive, that's a two-dose regimen, which creates a lot of logistic challenge. But if they have positive results, which I believe they will, that-- that vaccine would potentially be available by the end of this year or early next year in-- I would say, not in the number of doses that we really want, but then they will quickly scale up. And that's the next challenge-- who gets vaccinated first?

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Soren Christiansen, former Head of Vaccines at Merck. Now CEO of Sharps Technology. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us today.