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NIH’s ‘Shark Tank’ Pours $249 Million Into Speedy Covid Tests (1)

July 31, 2020, 3:01 PMUpdated: July 31, 2020, 3:34 PM

Quidel and six other companies that produce rapid Covid-19 tests will receive $248.7 million in NIH grants to ramp up manufacturing.

The Department of Health and Human Services has already tapped Quidel tests for nursing homes because they give results in 15 minutes. Other winners include point-of-care test manufacturers Mesa Biotech and Talis Biomedical and lab-based test manufacturers Ginkgo Bioworks, Helix OpCo, Fluidigm, and Mammoth Biosciences.

“These innovations will significantly increase the number, type, and availability of tests by millions per week as early as September 2020,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters this morning.

It’s not clear how many tests will immediately be available. The Food and Drug Administration has already authorized the tests from Mesa Biotech, Quidel, and Helix OpCo. The other four haven’t gotten the green light from the agency, which they’ll eventually need. The agency is prioritizing its reviews for Talis Biomedical, Ginkgo Bioworks, Fluidigm, and Mammoth Biosciences’ tests, according to the NIH.

This is the first batch of funding to come out of the NIH’s “Shark Tank” financing contest, which it announced in April. The program encourages scientists and investors from all over the country to vie for a slice of the roughly $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funding set aside to increase the country’s Covid-19 testing capability.

Sluggish turn-around times for results in some parts of the country have made faster tests even more valuable. Reporting test results for priority patients takes over two days. Reporting results for other patients usually takes about seven days, Quest Diagnostics, one of the biggest labs in the country, said in a statement this week.

But its website also acknowledged it could take up to two weeks for some people to get their results back. Roughly half of testing in the U.S. is done by big labs like Quest. The rest is handled by hospitals or point-of-care tests, according to the HHS. Part of the testing backlog is due to strained supply chains for products like swabs. That’s why the NIH is particularly interested in tests that might not need swabs, like Fluidigm’s saliva test. That test will be able to provide “tens to hundreds of thousands of new tests per day in fall 2020,” the NIH said.

“All the things we’re looking at has to fit into what the supply chain can achieve,” Collins said. “We’re particularly interested in technologies that are easier to introduce.”

The agency isn’t backing away from nasal swab tests entirely though. Helix OpCo’s nasal swabs tests are meant to help with bulk testing. Helix expects to process up to 50,000 samples a day by the end of September and 100,000 samples per day at the end of the year, according to the NIH.

(Updated with additional information from NIH Director Francis Collins)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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