The Trump administration is reportedly set to announce a $750 million deal with Abbott Laboratories (ABT) for a new rapid COVID-19 antigen test, giving new impetus to the push to reopen schools and workplaces.
Testing for COVID-19 continues to be a bumpy ride in the U.S., with backlogs still occasionally reported in pockets of the U.S. despite regular emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the past 24 hours, the FDA has authorized two new tests — a saliva test from California-based Fluidigm (FLDM) and a $5 rapid antigen test from Abbott. The latter has been hailed as a game-changer, as it provides accurate and rapid results, as well as includes an app that will host shareable results. On Thursday, both The Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported that a deal to obtain 150 million tests was imminent.
The technology used is similar to at-home pregnancy tests, according to Abbott divisional vice president of Applied Research and Technology, Dr. John Hackett — except that it still requires a clinician to administer the test.
But a key reason it has spurred enthusiasm is it is the “only antigen test in the US that doesn’t require instrumentation,” Hackett said.
Almost all other tests require some sort of heavy or portable machine, including Abbott’s own IDNow rapid PCR test. The new test, BinaxNOW, is a handheld device and includes the necessary reagents to perform the test, which takes only 15 minutes to provide results.
The administration has previously purchased other Abbott tests as part of efforts to ramp up availability parts of the country, as well as add to inventory in the national stockpile.
The news arrives at a time when schools in certain regions are moving to hold in-person classes at least part time, and businesses are trying to lure employees out of their work-from-home mode. Business Insider reported on Thursday that Wall Street giant Blackstone is aiming for most of its workers to return to the office after Labor Day, and plans to send them at-home COVID-19 tests to facilitate the transition.
Abbott is targeting schools and workplaces with the new test, saying the “health pass” for negatives tests— which is valid for seven days— can help move people through lines quicker to enter buildings. The antigen test is generally seen as accurate for positive results, but negative results can sometimes require another type of test to confirm.
The speed and convenience of the test can help boost access to testing, which is still strained during surges.
Recently, in order to accommodate spikes in some areas, major labs took steps to limit testing after a major backlog built up — repeating the struggle the companies faced at the start of the pandemic. Though it only took a week or two two clear out, rather than months, the move highlights the ongoing struggle in testing capacity.
Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved to clarify recently announced changes to testing guidelines. In a controversial move, the agency appeared to downplay the need for testing asymptomatic individuals from testing, which critics blasted as a political maneuver to hide positive cases— something President Donald Trump has previously hinted at.
In a media call Wednesday, White House coronavirus task force member Admiral Brett Giroir said the move was not meant to stop testing asymptomatic people altogether, but rather only in hot zones, as needed.
However, the Infectious Disease Society of America said in a statement that the move was “concerning” and called for a reversal as cases worldwide continue to rise, with symptom-less spreading a key driver. The pandemic has now affected more than 24 million, and killed more than 827,000. In the U.S., cases have surpassed 5.8 million and more than 180,000 Americans have died.
Vaccines on the horizon
New insight into Moderna’s data revealed that older adults responded similarly to the vaccine as the younger population. Those older than 65, and in some cases as old as in their 90s, produced similar neutralizing antibody responses, according to Moderna.
In a subsequent media call, executives said based on the positive news, the vaccine is likely to beat the FDA’s bar of 50%, possibly reaching 60% effectiveness.
A new center for infectious diseases
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has created a new center to study emerging infectious diseases that will include collaborations with 28 other countries.
The new channel of research mirrors a collaborative effort traditionally seen at the World Health Organization. Health experts were encouraged by the NIAID’s leadership, in the hopes the data will be less politically influenced.
In a statement Thursday, NIAID announced 11 first-year grants totaling $17 million for the domestic and global research entities that will form the Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID), with at least $82 million committed over five years.
“The CREID network will enable early warnings of emerging diseases wherever they occur, which will be critical to rapid responses. The knowledge gained through this research will increase our preparedness for future outbreaks,” I NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said in a statement.
Various centers will focus on different regions of the world, including Central and South America, Asia, and the Middle East. A coordinating center has been created in collaboration with RTI International in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.
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