NIH's COVID-19 diagnostic competition awards $129M to boost 9 more test makers

The National Institutes of Health has picked nine additional test manufacturers to advance through its “Shark Tank”-like COVID-19 diagnostics competition—alongside $129.3 million in new funding to help scale up the production of both point-of-care screening tests and high-throughput laboratory assays.

The test developers include the sequencing giant Illumina as well as the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which aim to increase high-throughput testing capacity by processing tens of thousands of samples per day.

Other lab-based test providers picked for the program include Aegis Sciences, PathGroup and Sonic Healthcare USA—as well as Ceres Nanoscience, which will advance a sample prep method that concentrates viral material to improve a range of tests’ sensitivity. 

In addition, the NIH will support three point-of-care diagnostic manufacturers: MatMaCorp, makers of a portable mini-lab that can run multiple RT-PCR assays; Maxim Biomedical, developers of a 15-minute, lateral-flow test strip; and MicroGEM International, with a cartridge-based rapid saliva test that can also detect respiratory diseases such as the flu. 

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“Many of these tests incorporate innovations that have moved from research labs to the point of care with unprecedented speed,” said Bruce Tromberg, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which helps to lead the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, or RADx. 

“That process normally takes years, but RADx has brought together key experts in technology, medicine and commercialization to bring new tests to market in only five to six months,” Tromberg said. The end-goal is to deliver their products and services to the public this fall.

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The RADx program previously named seven companies as the first to advance to the final phase of its competition. After receiving more than 650 applications this year, reviewers selected the most promising 100 for a one-week feasibility assessment. About a third of those then moved forward for deeper testing and validation work.