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CIC expands from co-working to coronavirus testing

Its PCR tests, once available only to schools and the company’s tenants, have gone public

Tim Rowe, CIC's chief executive, has gotten into the retail COVID-19 testing business.
Tim Rowe, CIC's chief executive, has gotten into the retail COVID-19 testing business.Courtesy of CIC

When Tim Rowe helped launch the Cambridge Innovation Center two decades ago, he had no idea it would evolve to include a health care venture.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has altered CIC’s trajectory. The company is getting into the virus-testing business. First, CIC began handling testing for schools and universities in August, at the same time it began offering twice-weekly testing for all of its tenants in the United States.

This week begins a new chapter: CIC is offering its polymerase chain reaction tests for the coronavirus to consumers for $80 at its flagship facility at 245 Main St. in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Tim Rowe, CIC’s chief executive, said people can schedule PCR tests in advance on the new subsidiary CIC Health’s website, in three-minute intervals, avoid waiting in line, and expect results within 24 hours.

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“When we started out doing this for ourselves, what we discovered was everyone was calling us and saying, ‘Could you do that for us, too?’ ” Rowe said. “As soon as people started calling us . . . we realized this was a business within itself.”

CIC is adding a modest charge over its cost to administer and process the PCR tests, Rowe said. He said the $80 price compares favorably to the higher prices at many clinics. He notes that some municipalities, as well as the State of Massachusetts, offer free tests. But Rowe said the hours at CIC — 8 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., seven days a week — offer more flexibility and often a faster turnaround time.

“What we like to think is we’re another option,” Rowe said.

Unlike some of the other testing sites, CIC does not yet accept insurance. Rowe said the company is working on being able to do so. He said insurance typically requires a patient to be symptomatic or exposed to the virus for coverage, while people can take the tests at the CIC if they are asymptomatic.

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CIC contracts with an employment agency, which brings in medical professionals to administer the nasal-swab tests. Most of the CIC tests are processed by the Broad Institute, a nonprofit located a few blocks away in Kendall Square.

“There’s this perception of a shortage of testing in the marketplace,” Rowe said. “What we discovered is there wasn’t a shortage of lab capacity. It was a shortage of connective tissue: all the mundane things you need to get the test to the lab. . . . In essence, the missing piece was the logistics.”

That’s where CIC can fulfill a need, Rowe said. He expects to roll out the tests at his other five co-working sites in the United States as well as at many other to-be-determined locations in the coming months, with a few opening within the next few weeks. Advertising could begin as soon as this week in the Boston area.

“We think the whole country needs this,” Rowe said. “[But] we would like nothing better than to be put out of business if the pandemic goes away, or if there are better ways for people to get access to this.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.