The National Institutes of Health said Friday it is investing nearly $250 million in seven companies that whipped up quick and innovative tests for the coronavirus.
Officials say the effort will hopefully add millions of tests per week by September, allowing nursing homes, schools and other settings to protect their residents, students and workers.
“These have now reached the point where we believe it’s time to go big,” said Dr. Francis Collins, the director of NIH. “These are not cookie-cutters and they can be performed in a variety of settings to meet diverse needs.”
Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at NIH, predicted that there will be a modest impact as early as August.
Mr. Tromberg said officials are projecting a contribution of several hundred thousand tests per day in September.
“So it would be quite a significant impact — perhaps on the order of about a quarter of the total national testing capacity,” he said. “Those are optimistic projections, but looking at the experience and the detail in the proposals from these companies we are encouraged.”
Four of the technologies are lab-based. They will expand capacity and improve turnaround times.
The four companies working on lab-based tests are Boston-based Gingko Bioworks and Helix OpCo, Fluidigm and Mammoth Biosciences Inc., which are all based in California.
The others deliver results on-site through a mix of techniques, including saliva sampling. These will be beneficial to offices, factories and child care centers hoping to ensure workers’ safety on a regular basis.
The three companies that are developing “point of care” technologies are California-based Mesa Biotech, Quidel and Talis Biomedical.
“These technologies will help deliver faster results from labs and more and more test results within minutes at the point of care, which is especially important for settings like schools and nursing homes,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said.
The investment is part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative launched in April to vet developers’ ideas and offer federal support.
More than 600 applications rolled in, and 31 have moved into a “rigorous” phase of scrutiny and validation. The seven projects highlighted on Friday are the first of these to be selected for wide-scale manufacturing and delivery.
Dr. Collins said the seven technologies are “just the first of more awards to come.”
“We certainly don’t think this is the end of the list of the things that are going to be worth investing in,” he said.
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