Thermo Fisher Scientific, the Waltham-based laboratory equipment firm, has been given approval to provide high-speed tests to hospitals and laboratories that will be able to diagnose the new coronavirus in as many as 5 million people a week.
The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency authorization for the test, which can provide results within four hours of a sample arriving at a lab, Thermo Fisher said Friday.
“The authorization of our diagnostic test for Covid-19 will help to protect patients and enable medical staff to respond swiftly to treat those who are ill and prevent the spread of infection,” Marc N. Casper, chief executive officer of the firm, said in a statement.
Hospitals and labs can order the kits online immediately and they “should be able to start running the tests within a week,” Ron O’Brien, a spokesman for Thermo Fisher, said in an interview Saturday.
Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration was “very pleased that Thermo Fisher was just approved last night by the FDA in record time to also be providing what’s called a high throughput test that will actually increase the capacity of this public and private partnership.”
Thermo Fisher is selling two types of kits, O’Brien said. One has testing instruments, reagents and other substances to diagnose as many as 100 people. Another has enough to diagnose as many as 1,000 people. The kits that laboratories choose “obviously depends on the size of your lab,” he said.
A severe shortage of tests for the coronavirus has drawn widespread criticism around the country from healthcare providers, government officials, and patients.
The Swiss drug giant Roche announced Friday that it had received a similar authorization for a rival test kit. President Trump mentioned both companies at a news conference Friday as he pledged up to $50 billion in aid to combat the pandemic.
Thermo Fisher has about 70,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue of more than $24 billion. Its market value totals more than $119 billion, higher than any other company based in Massachusetts.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org