E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. yesterday introduced a test for scientists to detect the AIDS virus in laboratory specimens.
The giant chemical, energy and life-sciences company said the new test is one of several research tools and instruments it has developed to serve the emerging biotechnology industry, which uses genes and other components of living cells to develop new drugs, crops, chemicals and other products.
The AIDS test was introduced by the company's new biotechnology division, created last year to serve an estimated 30,000 biomedical scientists worldwide. Other products being marketed by the division include scientific tools with exotic-sounding names such as radio-labeled chemicals, centrifuges, cell culture media and computerized synthesizers of protein segments.
"During the Gold Rush, there were a lot of people out there looking for the mother lode with picks and shovels," Edward M. Chaid, Du Pont's manager for business development, said at a press conference yesterday. "We're providing the picks and shovels for biotechnology."
Du Pont expects initial annual sales of more than $10 million for the AIDS test, which uses radioactive material to identify a protein at the core of the deadly virus. The company estimates that the total worldwide market for biotech "picks and shovels" will be worth $5 billion a year by 1991.
The new product would not be used as a diagnostic test for human carriers of the AIDS virus, but would be used by scientists to conduct laboratory research that might lead to a treatment or vaccine. The test would be used to detect the virus in specimens, to monitor the effects of potential antiviral agents and as a quality-control measure during the production of the virus, said A. Dale Stratton, director of Du Pont's biotechnology systems division.
The test "promises to be a very important new tool for the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic agents for AIDS and in the search for a vaccine," she said.
The biotech systems division is one part of a life-sciences business that generated more than $1 billion of the company's sales last year, Stratton said.
Financial analysts said Du Pont's biotech business presents long-term opportunities, but still contributed a relatively small portion of the company's total 1985 sales of $29.5 billion.
The business of selling biotech instruments and tools is a "logical adjunct" to Du Pont's other life-sciences operations, said Mary Schoenbrod, an analyst with Duff & Phelps Inc. Those operations include diagnostic tests, prescription drugs, X-ray film and systems, and a blood-screening test that detects antibodies to the AIDS virus.
Stratton noted that new biological products can enter the research market much sooner than they can reach the pharmaceutical market: A researcher can use any product on a lab specimen, while a human drug or vaccine cannot be sold without undergoing years of extensive testing to win federal approval.
Du Pont expects, however, that "many of these products will eventually reach the clinical marketplace," Stratton said.