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January 20, 2021

Chester County sues East Whiteland company for $11 million over missing COVID-19 antibody tests

The lawsuit claims Advaite failed to deliver the 1 million tests it promised, the lawsuit states

Chester County is suing the East Whiteland company it had paid millions to supply 1 million COVID-19 antibody tests to the county last year. 

The county seeks to get back more than $11 million of the $13 million it had paid Advaite Inc., the Inquirer reported this week. Most of the money Chester County is trying to recoup from the biotechnology firm and its CEO Karthik Musunuri is for test kits the county had pre-paid for and did not receive.

Through the end of May, Chester County had received about 39,000 test kits, far short of the 1 million promised in the contract.

These antibody tests were intended to be a quick way to determine if someone previously had been infected by the coronavirus by detecting antibodies in the person's blood. The pin-prick tests offer same-day results for recipients.

The county had purchased an initial round of 10,000 tests from Advaite that were reserved for large-scale testing of its frontline health care workers last May. Chester County was first county in the Pennsylvania to attempt to offer antibody tests to these essentail health care workers.

But the tests were inaccurate and resulted in a large number of false positive results, the Daily Local News reported. The county said it would notify those tested of the questionable results last year. While the complaint did not directly address the false positives, it cited the Chester County had to return 2,000 tests in May for "defects and component issues."

In a May email included in the lawsuit, Advaite said the tests' quality and quantity would improve. 

In an email to PhillyVoice, attorney Ajay Raju, who represents Advaite and Musunuri, claimed the county plotted to get out of the contract and did not pick up test kits after they were made available. Raju said the company disputes the claims in the lawsuit and plans to filed a countersuit against the county.

"It's quite evident by now that this lawsuit is a thinly veiled attempt on the part of Chester County to divert attention from its own internecine squabbling and incompetence around the distribution of Advaite's test kits," Raju said. "But the real tragedy is the county leadership's failure to do the right thing and to do it correctly."

An antibody test detects a person's immune system's response fighting off a coronavirus infection. It is not used to diagnose people with COVID-19, but accurate test results can better inform communities about how the disease was spread.

Counties across the state are grappling with a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and a climbing death toll, making these tests a useful tool for local health officials. 

Chester County had given notice that it would stop payments on the $20 million contract after it had received just one-tenth of the tests it was stipulated to receive at that point. The county requested a refund and contract termination in July, which Advaite denied.

Rajo said the county was "having trouble getting a truck" to pick up tests that were sitting in a warehouse. 

County officials said in the lawsuit that the tests were initially supposed to detect two different of antibodies, though they only marketed the tests to detect one. The company said its tests have strong reliability ratings.

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