BIOTECHNOLOGY

How an Austin company is playing a role in the fight against Zika

Posted August 9th, 2016

Austin-based biomedical company Luminex Corp. says it has received an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell a newly developed test for the Zika virus. 

In partnership with Rockville, Md.-based GenArraytion, Luminex helped develop a  molecular test that can detect six genetic targets for the Zika virus. They have been working on this test since at least February. 

The demand for Zika testing in the United States is escalating as more people begin contracting the virus from mosquitos in the United States. And in Texas, the first Zika-related death was announced on Tuesday. A baby with Zika died in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Resources, though the baby's mother likely contracted the virus in Latin America

While there are other Zika tests on the market, the one developed by Luminex is unusual because it can detect the Zika virus in six different genetic targets, according to Amy Altman, the vice president of biodefense and protein diagnostics at Luminex. 

Most of the exiting tests only can detect "one or two" genetic markers, Altman said. 

The benefit to being able to test more genetic targets is that Luminex's test is more likely to catch the Zika virus even after it mutates, Altman said. 

She said the test is also better able to catch the virus in persons of African or Asian lineage. 

The FDA authorization will allow Luminex to sell the test to clinical labs in the United States, and perhaps in other countries, depending on whether those countries accept the FDA authorization. 

Luminex also makes the testing system, called MagPix, that goes along with the Zika test. 

It's not clear yet whether the new Zika product will significantly boost sales for Luminex. 

During a conference call with financial analysts in May, Luminex president and CEO Homi Shamir said it is "very hard to know what is going to happen" in terms of whether the Zika virus will become an epidemic. 

"Brazil Olympics can help but it's not significant revenue," Shamir said, adding that "our big customers are asking us about it, they're showing a lot of interest."

The company generated $238 million in sales last year, and had a profit of $37 million. 

After its stock price declined 18 percent earlier this year, Luminex has mostly rebounded. But investors shrugged at this week's Zika news, with its stock declining slightly on Monday to close at $21.92.

Luminex was founded in 1995, went public in 2000 and employs about 800 people worldwide. 

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