Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer Monday announced a settlement with a Chinese genetic testing company involving allegations it advertised and sold at-home COVID-19 testing kits that lacked U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
“In this crisis, Angelenos depend on having accurate, clear, reliable information and legitimate products that can actually help all of us,” Feuer said. “The FDA has not approved any home test kit … to detect the (coronavirus).”
Yikon Genomics, a Chinese company reportedly staffed by researchers from some of that country’s leading universities, agreed in a settlement with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office to pull its unauthorized product from the market and refund anyone who purchased it, Feuer said.
Feuer said he did not know how many of the Yikon tests were sold, but he said legitimate testing includes carefully swabbing the nose or throat and shipping it to a lab within three days. He noted that health officials say a number of things could go wrong if people fail to take those steps.
“If consumers have a home test kit that hasn’t been approved by the FDA and is not likely to work properly, they may not get reliable results and they may unknowingly expose others to this virus,” said Feuer, who said his office has been scouring the internet for products that claim to accurately test for the coronavirus.
The city attorney originally sought a court order directing the company to stop advertising and selling its “Corona Virus At-Home Test Kit” without FDA sanction, plus $2,500 in civil penalties for each alleged violation of the state Business and Professions Code.
While the FDA says it wants to develop home testing for COVID-19 and is “actively working with test developers” to that end, as of Monday, the agency has approved no such kits.
Late Monday morning, Yikon posted a statement to its Twitter page saying that it is committed to complying with all state and federal laws.
“We intend to pursue FDA approval for the market (and) sale of COVID-19 test kits, which we hope will aid in mitigating this global health crisis,” the statement reads.
A news release from Yikon said that for $40, a user could prick a finger and in 15 minutes learn “with a specificity of 100%” whether they’d tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
People who purchase the product are being swindled out of their money, Deputy City Attorney William R. Pletcher wrote in a complaint lodged against Yikon Genomics, alleging it violated, among other laws, California business codes that forbid false and misleading advertising.
“Whenever consumers are motivated in part by fears, they are particularly vulnerable to fraudsters, scammers, and `snake oil’ hucksters and charlatans who prey on those fears to persuade the consumers to seek `cures,’ `treatments,’ and other protections, such as tests,” the city prosecutor wrote.
Yikon Genomics registered a Foster City address in 2013 with the California secretary of state. Its director, according to state records, is Xiaoliang “Sunney” Xie, a professor of biophysical chemistry and dean of sciences at Peking University. Xie didn’t return an email seeking comment, according to the Times.
Feuer said he would speak more this week about efforts to stop price gouging, which is defined as raising the price of goods more than 10% while an emergency declaration is in effect.
People who have purchased the Yikon products can reach out to the City Attorney’s Office at lacityattorney.org/covid19 or call 213-978-8070.
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