Apr 29, 2020 - Health

NIH to start "Shark Tank" process to speed up coronavirus tests

A green glove handles coronavirus test vials.

The U.S. is conducting about 1.6 million COVID-19 tests per week right now. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health is spending $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money to speed the development of COVID-19 tests, with a goal of creating "millions" of quick tests every week "by the end of summer 2020, and even more in time for the flu season," the federal agency said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Containing the coronavirus outbreak and resuming a semblance of normal life will require a big increase in the country's testing capacity, which is still well below where experts say it should be.

Driving the news: NIH is going to set up a "Shark Tank"-like process, awarding money to companies that have promising ideas and helping those tests get quicker regulatory approval, NIH director Francis Collins said on a conference call.

  • The focus will be on viral tests that provide accurate results and are easy to use at home or the point of care.
  • NIH officials said they hope this initiative will substantially increase the weekly test capacity, but they did not want to put a precise number on a goal.
  • The agency aims to commercialize five tests from the pool of applicants.

The bottom line: The U.S. is currently conducting 1.6 million COVID-19 tests per week. However, experts believe we need to be doing at least 3.5 million per week — some say at least 30 million per week — to have a better idea of who has the virus.

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