The National Institutes of Health announced a $129.3 million initiative Wednesday to immediately scale up the manufacturing of rapid tests and widen the network of high throughput labs.
The NIH said this should significantly increase the number and type of tests by millions per week.
The contracts go to nine companies as part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program. The first awards went out in July.
The money will help five existing high-throughput labs expand their network of coverage as early as this month. The goal is to speed up the turnaround of test results in regions that have had backups. One contract went to Nashville-based PathGroup, which has labs concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest. The company processes about 10,000 coronavirus tests a day, but with the funding and a partnership with ThermoFisher and Illumina, it will add additional test equipment and automation that should let the lab perform 80,000 tests a day by December.
The money will also fund novel technology to make Covid-19 testing more accessible.
One company, Virginia-based MicroGEM International, created a portable lab that tests saliva samples. It can give test results in 15 minutes. That technology can also be used to detect other pathogens in the sample, such as influenza.
Funding will go to Nebraska-based MatMaCorp that created a portable mini-lab that can be used in clinics and hospitals in rural and other medically underserved communities.
A contract went to Maryland-based Maxim Biomedical for its Covid-19 test that has a single use test strip similar to a home pregnancy test that doesn’t need specialized equipment to read the results.
Another went to Virginia-based Ceres Nanoscience Inc, which created a sample prep method that improves the sensitivity of other company’s tests and reduces the processing time needed to look for the novel coronavirus.
“Many of these tests incorporate innovations that have moved from research labs to the point of care with unprecedented speed,” Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead for RADx Tech, said in a statement.
Some context: On Tuesday, Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, said that the turnaround times for the major referral labs has decreased over the past seven days.
These labs process about half the country’s Covid-19 tests, but people in some regions of the country are still struggling to find a test or have seen long waits for results.