XPrize names winners of $6M COVID diagnostics competition

Nine teams have been selected as the winners of XPrize’s $6 million COVID-19 testing competition, with the goal of providing affordable and accurate diagnostics to help ensure the safety of everyday activities.

Five grand prize winners brought forward unique antigen- and RNA-based tests that aim to meet the public’s high demand for diagnostics while also helping prevent future supply chain issues.

A separate “open innovation track” selected four participants that employed screening technologies outside of typical tests—such as a panel to detect changes in a person’s sense of smell and breath analysis machines to detect viral infections. 

Twenty finalists were announced in late December and had their testing kits analyzed by independent laboratories and judges—including former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority chief Rick Bright; nurse economist Shawna Butler; Charity Dean, M.D., CEO and co-founder of The Public Health Company; Paul Drain, M.D., associate professor at the University of Washington; Anita Goel, chairman and CEO of Nanobiosym; Michael Mina, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Anne Wyllie, Ph.D., associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health. 

The grand prize winners were Alveo Technologies, ChromaCode, Mirimus, Reliable LFC and the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.

“The competition was open to all modalities of molecular testing, and the teams submitted an impressive range of ideas,” said Chris Mason, Ph.D., a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and leader of the XPrize science team. “The winners created innovative technologies in rapid PCR, novel antigens, and point-of-care LAMP as well as pioneering some of the first-ever olfaction and breathalyzer tests.”

This year, the winning teams will work to prepare their tests for wider adoption, while ChromaCode already received an FDA authorization last September for its PCR assay. XPrize, meanwhile, will work to gather schools and workplaces for a potential future rollout of the tests.

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The innovation track’s winners were Ram Global, Steradian Technologies, TeraGroup and U-smell-it.

“While vaccines are important, we cannot rely on them alone to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and future outbreaks, especially not until they are provided around the world, en masse and at-scale,” said Jeff Huber, president and co-founder of diagnostics nonprofit OpenCovidScreen. 

“These technological breakthroughs in rapid COVID testing are providing a safety net to ensure the spread of the disease is contained and to enable a safe return to work and school, and to protect hotspots like nursing homes,” Huber said. “These advancements are key to helping underserved, under-resourced communities get access to affordable, accurate tests and to ultimately save more lives now and in the future.”

XPrize previously launched competitions for the use of artificial intelligence models against the pandemic as well as a million-dollar challenge to design a next-generation face mask.

The Arizona State University student-run Luminosity Lab’s winning mask design included split filtration chambers and the ability to divert heat away from the wearer’s face during exercise. 

Additionally, AI programs in Spain and Slovenia took home honors for their models’ abilities to predict COVID-19 transmission rates and the effects of medical interventions, mitigation measures and what-if scenarios.