The National Institutes of Health selected Ginkgo Bioworks, Mammoth Biosciences, Quidel, and four other companies to receive nearly $250 million to develop new Covid-19 diagnostic tests through its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program, the agency announced Friday.

Three of the tests are intended to be processed at pharmacies or doctor’s offices; four are tests meant to be run in clinical labs. The money is coming from a $1.5 billion pot allocated to the NIH in April through the same law that created the Paycheck Protection Program.

The goal of the program, often abbreviated to RADx, is to add millions of tests per day to the U.S.’s current testing capacity by September 2020, which is currently about 800,000. Ultimately, the program hopes its awardees will add 6 million tests per day by the end of the year.

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“September is an extremely ambitious goal,” said NIH Director Francis Collins. “But we do believe that demand for testing will continue to rise in the fall.”

Twenty other companies are still being considered for funding through the program, the release noted.

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The seven projects were selected from a pool of 100 ideas that went through a “Shark Tank” process, as the NIH has repeatedly described it. Originally, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Director Bruce Tromberg said about five programs would ultimately be selected.

Quidel, Mesa Biotech, and Talis Biomedical are developing point-of-care tests, while Ginkgo Bioworks, Mammoth Biosciences, Helix, and Fluidigm (FLDM), are developing lab-based tests.

None of the funded projects are brand new; each company has either received an emergency use authorization for its test from the Food and Drug Administration or has submitted an application for an EUA.

And in some cases, the companies have already raised money for these projects elsewhere.

Mammoth, which is making a CRISPR-based test, is also working with GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer health division on a Covid-19 test. (The value of that collaboration was not disclosed when it was announced in May.) Ginkgo Bioworks’ efforts to automate more of the lab work needed to run a Covid-19 test already raised $70 million in May from the sequencing company Illumina as well as a hedge fund and a private equity firm. And Quidel already has an EUA for its test.

What the NIH funding offers is scale, according to Marc Stapley, Helix’s president and CEO. He said the money will allow his company to “move far faster to ramp up our capacity than we otherwise would have.”

“Good to great is the idea here,” said Collins.

  • Ben-Gurion University has a breath test that claims 90% accuracy. Don’t you think the remaining scientific minds in the world could develop a similar test. They claim they used publicly available information to create this test in May. It’s now August and we typically wait 3 to 21 days for results.

  • When I can go by my barber’s shop and ask my barber if she is infectious today, and she has taken the little 10 minute test (probably using some spit and a colored strip of treated paper) before work and can say “Not today”, then I will end my days with Covid hair and return to respectability (relatively speaking) by sitting down on the chair and letting her at it. She can do the beard as well. I do not need to know if she is actually infected. I need to know if she is infectious. That, I understand without knowing for sure, depends on viral load. When we can quickly test to determine whether a person is infectious, I will once again take the necessary steps towards social respectability. Maybe a lot more “vulnerable people” will join in.

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