Robust engineering response powers rapid progress toward thwarting pandemic

Several months ago in this space I wrote that bioengineered technologies for COVID-19 testing must ultimately be deployed to help reduce the spread of the virus and return us safely to full function as a society. I described how the NIBIB had received $500 million from Congress to support the development of new SARS-CoV-2 virus testing technologies through the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx)  initiative.  Since then, through a massive response by the bioengineering community in support of the RADx initiative, we have awarded contracts worth $ 513.1 million to 25 small and large biomedical diagnostic companies for scale-up and manufacturing. The contracts support a wide range of new lab-based technologies,  point-of-care tests and home tests that are expected to increase national capacity by 1.5 million tests per day by the beginning of 2021 and increasing throughout the first quarter of 2021. In addition to financial support, two programs in the RADx initiative, RADx Tech and RADx Advanced Technology Platforms, or ATP, have provided technical expertise to move these projects through the technology development pipeline at an unprecedented pace. 

Through NIBIB’s Point-of-Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN), hundreds of experts from government, academia, and industry guided project teams that evaluated more than 700 applications. Their expertise provided technical and clinical advice through an intense, phased evaluation process in which technologies reaching performance and regulatory milestones were chosen for scale up, manufacturing and completion of clinical studies.  RADx Tech and ATP are  delivering diagnostic tests to the American people quickly because it harnesses the enormous energy, talent, and drive in the bioengineering community and provides support all the way from development to deployment. 

I encourage you to visit NIBIB’s RADx Tech/ATP webpages  to learn about the impressive scope of testing platforms and diagnostic capabilities that awardees are developing.  They are a testament to the incredible creativity and untiring work by hundreds of dedicated people here at the NIH and across the nation. With additional support from the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA), additional novel tests currently in the pipeline will be able to be realized in 2021. Tests developed through RADx Tech/ATP will be used with other NIH programs such as RADx Underserved Populations (RADx UP), which aims to reduce disparities for vulnerable populations who have the highest infection rates and are most at risk for complications or poor outcomes. 

Many of the diagnostic tests introduced through RADx are being evaluated for use in real world settings through the COVID 19 Test Us clinical studies program. Test developers, COVID-19 Test Us study design experts, and participants from the community all have essential roles to play in the rapid deployment of COVID-19 tests that work best in specific settings. The program continues to recruit volunteers to help in this critical aspect of test evaluation and deployment. Visit the Test Us website to find out how you can participate in this important effort.

The biomedical imaging community is also contributing with an ambitious effort to marshal the power of imaging and artificial intelligence to fight COVID-19. The new Medical Imaging and Data Resource Center (MIDRC), will use AI and medical imaging to enable early disease detection, inform successful treatment strategies, and predict individual disease outcomes of COVID-19. The MIDRC is an NIBIB-funded resource led by the University of Chicago in collaboration with the American College of Radiology, the Radiological Society of North America, and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. 

We have also partnered with the National Cancer Institute to develop user-friendly digital tools for management of health data to assist COVID-19 infected individuals and their friends, family and co-workers. The innovative sensing and computational technologies under development are built around smartphone and wearable devices that will gather and analyze large amounts of data that will help individuals reduce risk of infection. 

Another critical resource in our battle against COVID-19 was recently launched: the COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator, a free tool that shows how different types of tests and other mitigation measures, such as mask use, can curb the spread of the virus in any organization. It is the nation’s first online tool to help schools and businesses with decision making on risk-reduction behaviors and strategies that can allow them to stay open safely. 

We will continue to accelerate research, translation, and commercialization of an impressive range of technologies that make up our multipronged response to the many challenges created by this novel coronavirus. I look forward to continuing our work together as we leverage ideas and experiences into creative solutions.  We call on you to bring new insights and innovative technologies that make us all healthier, stronger, and better prepared for the future.

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