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WILL KIT ELEVATE TESTING FOR CHOLESTEROL?

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The Johnson & Johnson Co. said Wednesday that it had begun shipping the first federally approved home-test kit for cholesterol, the artery-clogging component in blood that raises the risk of heart disease.

The kits, already on the shelves at some Pathmark and Safeway grocery stores, are to be available at supermarkets and pharmacies nationwide for $15 to $20. Johnson & Johnson said it expected to sell 2 million units during the next 12 months."There's a big, big market out there," said Michael Perlmutter, a pharmaceutical analyst for Kline & Co., a drug consulting firm in Fairfield, N.J. Perlmutter, 28, added that his cholesterol level was elevated. "I can't wait to try it," he said of the kit. "I'm the target market."

Nearly 250 million people annually are given cholesterol-tests by medical professionals, Perlmutter said. As a consequence, he estimated, sales of cholesterol home-test kits could reach $500 million.

Other analysts were more conservative in their sales estimates. "Price could be a deterrant," said Jeffrey C. Barnes, an analyst for Needham & Co.

The cholesterol kits, which can be used once, join a proliferation of home-testing devices, influenced in part by the increased attention consumers are giving to their own well-being. Last year, consumers spent nearly $1 billion for disposable kits, including tests for pregnancy and blood glucose, according to Johnson & Johnson.

The test measures serum cholesterol in 15 minutes from two drops of blood extracted from a kit user's finger.

Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., sells an array of consumer products, including pregnancy and blood glucose home-test kits.

The new kit, known as the Advanced Care Cholesterol Test, received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last year. The test is not intended for the general public but is aimed at people who are on cholesterol-reducing drugs or who already know they should watch their fat intake, said Craig C. Parker, a biotechnology analyst for Volpe, Welty & Co. in San Francisco.