Seven companies nab NIH grants to help meet US demand for COVID-19 testing

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Friday that it has distributed $249 million in grants to seven companies developing COVID-19 diagnostic technology to support a range of new laboratory-based and point-of-care testing that could boost the number, type and availability of tests by "millions per week" as early as September. NIH director Francis Collins remarked that "the innovations selected to date represent the diverse types of promising technologies that will serve the nation's testing needs."

The first awardees in the NIH's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, which was launched in April, are Mesa Biotech, Quidel, Talis Biomedical, Ginkgo Bioworks, Helix Opco, Fluidigm and Mammoth Biosciences.

Boosting testing capacity 'exponentially'

According to the NIH, the technologies use different methods and formats, and can be performed in a variety of settings to meet diverse needs. Four of them introduce innovations in laboratory-based testing technologies, including next-generation sequencing, CRISPR and integrated microfluidic chips that the agency says "could dramatically increase testing capacity and throughput while reducing the time to receive test results." Meanwhile, three technologies use platforms to provide nucleic acid and viral antigen tests that can provide rapid results at the point of care, while some offer more convenient sampling, such as saliva testing.

"This is an exciting milestone," commented Bruce Tromberg, leader of RADx Tech, one of four components of the NIH RADx initiative, adding that "it will increase US testing capacity exponentially over the next few months. These and other technologies emerging from our RADx pipeline will guide patient care and inform public health measures to stop the spread of the virus and leave us better equipped to address future pathogens and other diseases."

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