Self-tests, antigenic tests: the Omicron variant puts French manufacturers under pressure

French companies that produce and distribute Covid-19 tests have seen demand explode since the emergence of the variant.

Boiron was not entering the year 2021 under the best auspices. The delisting of homeopathy by Social Security, which took effect on January 1 of that same year, had prompted the company to set up a social plan which resulted in the dismissal of 512 employees. “I actively sought to diversify Boiron’s activity», Recalls Valérie Lorentz Poinsot, general manager of the company. Until a call, in March 2021. The NG Biotech company, with which Valérie Lorents Poinsot had contacted a year earlier, inspired by these companies which had participated in the manufacture of respirators, agrees to work hand in hand with Boiron to finalize the tests that NG Biotech is producing.

After a drop of nearly 42% in its turnover in the 1st quarter, Boiron was thus able to resume growth over the following two quarters (+ 1.8% and + 1.0%).

Surge in demand

The emergence and outbreak of the Omicron variant – France exceeded the symbolic mark of 200,000 cases recorded in 24 hours on Tuesday – gave a new boost to this partnership and more generally to the companies that produce and distribute the tests. From now on, Boiron assembles, in order to relieve NG Biotech, part of the self-tests which are distributed. “No one expected this Omicron wave», Confirms Milovan Stankov-Pugès, CEO of NG Biotech. “We expect demand for self-testing and antigen testing to continue over the coming weeks, as there will still be many contact cases.“. Currently, the Minister of Health Olivier Véran estimates that nearly 10% of French people already are.

It must be said that NG Biotech, whose head office is located in Ille-et-Vilaine south of Rennes and which assembles its tests in France, was only a start-up with 30 employees when it had its serological test validated. in March 2020. Since then, the activity of the company, which also produces self-tests and antigenic tests, has jumped. To the point of pushing it to triple its payroll and open a new production site.

Faced with the Omicron variant, the Breton company also plans to set up schedules in “3×8“, Meaning that employees will take turns so that the company produces 24 hours a day. With the objective of producing 3 million tests in January 2022 and 5 million in February 2022. By comparison, the company does not only produced 500,000 last October. NG Biotech intends in passing to place its self-tests on supermarket shelves, since this possibility was opened by the government until January 31.

Adaptation of the offer

AAZ, the Ile-de-France test manufacturer, also had to review its activity to produce 24 hours a day – this now allows it to produce 2.5 million tests each week. “Demand is expected to hold up in September», Says Fabien Larue, CEO of AAZ. Recent changes in health policy have also prompted the company to adapt its offer, particularly aimed at children, since the vaccination campaign for 5-11 year olds has started. AAZ has thus developed a test intended for children, whose tip covered with a sponge prevents injuries. The company is also benefiting from government orders for serological tests, which will be used before children are vaccinated to find out if they have ever been in contact with the virus.

The demand for tests is therefore changing, but is maintaining itself. French manufacturers and distributors, who were able to rely on major public orders, thus say they are confident. And say they do not fear a scenario similar to that of the French mask manufacturers who, after the first confinement, had rushed on this manna before being overtaken by their Asian competitors, with cheaper products. “We are on value-added products, which require skills“, Argues Oren Bitton, commercial director of Biosynex, which assembles tests on its site of Illkirch-Graffenstaden, in the Bas-Rhin. Less than a potential drop in demand, it is shortages that are of concern to Biosynex. Despite the recruitment of some 200 temporary workers in addition to the 240 employees on permanent contracts, the company is hampered in its productive momentum by difficulties in hiring and shortages of certain essential materials – such as transport boxes.

After an exceptional year 2021 during which the sale of tests accounted for 85% of turnover, the pace is not about to drop. Biosynex plans to produce nearly 2 million self-tests in January and 18 million antigenic tests in January. It also intends to capitalize on this prosperous period in terms of activity to relocate part of its historical production in France. From June onwards, Biosynex will be producing contactless thermometers in France, “only with European components”, specifies Oren Bitton. They were previously made in Asia.


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