La Jolla company brings COVID-19 antibody testing to the public

La Jolla resident Jeff Sternberg, founder of Discovery Health Services and Koi Wellbeing, said both Bird Rock companies will have a COVID-19 antibody test available “for anyone who wants it.”

Following the efforts of a UC San Diego lab to create and confirm validity of a test for COVID-19 antibodies, a local company is making that test available to the public starting Wednesday, May 20.

Jeff Sternberg, a La Jolla resident who is the founder and chief executive of Discovery Health Services in Bird Rock, said the company provides testing and vaccines for a number of illnesses and looked at COVID-19 antibody testing developed by Poway-based Diazyme Laboratories Inc. in partnership with the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine at UCSD Health and Dr. Robert Fitzgerald, a professor of pathology at UCSD.

“The people at Diazyme and Dr. Fitzgerald walked me through … the benefits of the test,” Sternberg said. “We talked about widespread employee testing.”

A team of UC San Diego scientists is developing a COVID-19 antibody test and is hoping it will provide answers for immediate medical use against the coronavirus that causes the potentially deadly respiratory disease.

Sternberg, a member of the California Immunization Coalition with 14 years’ experience working with immunizations, said an antibody test looks not for active but past infection, which shows up in the blood as IgG antibodies that develop after the immune system fights a virus.

“Doctors don’t know enough yet about COVID-19 to say that the presence of antibodies means they’re 100 percent protected,” Sternberg said. “But historically, if someone is positive for antibodies, you’d be able to say unequivocally that that person will not get sick again and cannot infect somebody else.”

People with IgG antibodies for COVID-19, then, could not “be presently infected, and there’s a chance they can’t infect you,” Sternberg said.

The availability of a high-quality test, he said, is “an opportunity for normalcy.”

Employers are “looking forward,” he said. “If you have some employees who test positive for antibodies, the assumption is that the employers would be able to create ‘green, or oasis zones.’ Imagine a pot of employees. You’ve got three with antibodies and one without; they might be able to work together and have some normalcy.”

“We wanted to find a way to normalize the workplace so that when you go back to work, the one place you spend most of your waking hours … you can let your guard down, relax a little,” Sternberg added.

Diazyme’s test “knocked my socks off,” Sternberg said, noting that he was impressed by its “accuracy, its ability to record really low levels of IgG.”

Sternberg said most other antibody test kits available “are really only able to measure IgM,” the antibody the body develops first.

Additionally, Sternberg said, he chose the Diazyme test because it’s a “whole-blood serum test, which is integral to a value test. A finger stick … compared to a whole vial of blood … isn’t enough to really analyze.”

Sternberg said Discovery Health Services works with companies to “create a plan: temperature testing and have people using a good test for IgG antibodies.”

“Short of having a vaccine, it does appear that if you have a group with the antibodies, you can get back to those safe areas. That’s the value of the test,” he said.

In addition to Discovery Health Services’ work with employers, Sternberg founded Koi Wellbeing in Bird Rock, which focuses on helping people “buildup a strong immune system through diagnostic testing and adjusting lifestyles.”

Both companies will have the COVID-19 antibody test available “for anyone who wants it,” he said.

The cost for individuals may be $95, though Sternberg said he’s working to get the tests in bulk to bring the cost down. For now, individual tests are available by appointment at Koi Wellbeing. Sternberg said he wants to transition to walk-ins after awhile.

The tests will start at $95 for businesses as well, though the cost will depend on the number of participants.

Sternberg said offering the test to companies and individuals is “taking a two-prong approach. I would really like our people to be able to relax. This is bigger than just testing. This is a way to welcome people back.”

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