Abbott's COVID test sales make comeback thanks to delta-driven demand

After weathering a nearly billion-dollar dip in rapid COVID testing revenues earlier this year, Abbott’s BinaxNow antigen test sales rebounded following the COVID-19 resurgence due to the delta variant.

The company’s global, COVID-related diagnostic sales—which also include the card-based Panbio test being sold internationally and the tabletop ID NOW analyzer—topped $2.2 billion during the first three months of the year. 

Those sales shrank to $1.3 billion in the second quarter, as demand began to evaporate, with COVID vaccines bringing case levels down faster than expected heading into the summer. In fact, Abbott re-evaluated its full-year financial forecasts, leading it to cut back its R&D spending plans and begin laying off workers on its U.S. test production lines.

However, as has happened more than once in the past two years, the pandemic was underestimated. After U.S. vaccination rates plateaued and the delta variant spread, the need for rapid tests rose once again, driving Abbott’s COVID-related diagnostic sales back up to $1.9 billion—with $1.6 billion coming from BinaxNow, Panbio and ID NOW alone. The third quarter also saw the company ship its billionth test since the start of the pandemic.

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The demand for COVID testing will remain in some form for the near future, but the company will have to re-evaluate its contributions to the bottom line on a rolling, quarterly basis going forward, Abbott Chief Financial Officer Robert Funck said on a conference call with investors.

But COVID testing isn’t the whole story, as Abbott also launched new products in cardiovascular markets and saw additional growth in its diabetes franchise. Excluding coronavirus diagnostics, the company’s third-quarter sales grew by 12.1% compared to last year and 11.7% compared to the same three months in pre-pandemic 2019. Altogether, total revenue grew 23.4% to $10.9 billion.

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In September, Abbott dove into the market for transcatheter aortic valve replacements, previously divided between an entrenched Medtronic and Edwards Lifesciences. Its Portico TAVR implant has been available in Europe under a CE mark and was first picked up in Abbott’s 2017 acquisition of St. Jude Medical.

Before that, the company scored an FDA approval for its Amplatzer Amulet heart plug implant, to help cut down long-term stroke risks in people with atrial fibrillation. That left atrial appendage occluder has also been available in Europe for years, where it currently enjoys about a 50% market share. In the U.S., Amulet will compete directly with Boston Scientific’s Watchman device, in what’s estimated to be a $500 million market.

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The third quarter also saw Abbott complete its first acquisition in nearly three years, with the purchase of Walk Vascular, maker of minimally invasive systems for removing peripheral blood clots.

“We’ve been looking at this area for quite a bit,” said CEO Robert Ford, describing the company’s target as an attractive, $700 million segment seeing double-digit growth. 

“It made perfect sense for us to add it to the portfolio,” Ford added, citing the company’s established endovascular sales and service teams as well as its manufacturing capacity plus future plans to invest in securing pulmonary embolism indications for Walk Vascular’s products.

Meanwhile, the company’s FreeStyle Libre and Libre Sense glucose monitoring systems brought in $968 million for the quarter, resulting in a sales growth of 41.6% compared to last year as the diabetes sector continues to recover with more patients returning to doctor’s offices and clinics. Abbott’s diabetes care division raised $1.12 billion over the quarter as a whole.