US to develop fast coronavirus testing to assess outbreak

Responding to criticism over shortage of tests, US names testing czar, awards $1.3m to companies developing test kits.

Coronavirus testing US
A healthcare worker holding a completed test with patient samples at a drive-through testing site for coronavirus, flu and RSV in Seattle, Washington state [Lindsey Wasson/Reuters]

The administration of US President Donald Trump is awarding $1.3m to two companies trying to develop rapid COVID-19 tests that could detect whether a person is positive for the new coronavirus within an hour, it announced on Friday.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it is awarding $679,000 to DiaSorin Molecular, of Cypress, California, and $598,000 to QIAGEN, of Germantown, Maryland, to accelerate the development of their tests.

DiaSorin’s test could be ready within six weeks for consideration by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the QIAGEN test could be ready within 12 weeks for FDA consideration, according to HHS.

The Trump administration has been under pressure over the lack of testing kits available in the country. 

Anthony Fauci, the top US official on infectious diseases, said on Thursday that the US “system is not really geared to what we need right now”. 

“The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we’re not,” he told a House panel.

Responding to the pressure, the Trump administration named a testing “czar” at the HHS. 

Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health and head of the government’s uniformed Public Health Service, will be responsible for coordinating between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA, as well as private labs and state and local governments. 

FDA allows emergency tests  

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severer illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, about 81,000 people have been diagnosed and about 64,000 have recovered.

Separately, on Friday, the FDA said the New York State Department of Health can authorise certain laboratories to begin testing for the coronavirus. 

The agency said it was granting this flexibility due to the urgent public health need for additional testing capacity in the United States.

Boosting testing capacity is crucial to assessing the scope of the US outbreak and identifying where it is spreading most rapidly.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had said on Thursday that the city might push forward with using its own automated, high-volume tests without federal sign off.

Source: News Agencies