Feds to spend $1.6B to expand COVID testing, domestic manufacturing

The Biden administration announced plans today to expand COVID-19 testing across the country, boost domestic manufacturing of tests and testing supplies and increase virus genome sequencing to detect virus variants.

The departments of Health and Human Services and Defense will jointly invest $650 million to expand testing for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, directly through new regional coordination “hubs.” The move will also include working with laboratories, including at universities, to collect specimens, perform the tests and report results to the relevant public health agencies for up to 25 million additional tests per month.

HHS and DOD will also spend $815 million to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials, including filter pipette tips, nitrocellulose used in antigen point-of-care tests and specific injected molded plastics needed to house testing reagents, according to a news release.

The administration also plans to have the CDC rapidly increase genomic sequencing of the virus to better prepare for the threat of variants and slow the spread of disease. The CDC will spend nearly $200 million to expand genomic sequencing capabilities, including bioinformatics, reporting and modeling, to increase sequencing three-fold per week, the administration said. The agency will use large commercial laboratories, academic and research institutions, small-to-medium commercial laboratories and federal laboratories to increase sequencing capacity to-scale and as needed, based on the trajectory of the pandemic.

“The Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring that we expand COVID-19 testing capabilities and invest in a diverse array of testing technology, capacity, and human resources to identify and contain the spread of the virus,” said acting HHS secretary Norris Cochran. “As part of the president’s national strategy to combat COVID-19, we will deploy every available resource to ensure that more individuals and families have access to testing options during this unprecedented time and that our nation is prepared to contain and prevent the spread of possible variants.”

Medtech trade group AdvaMed praised the moves.

“We commend President Biden and the administration for their commitment to expanding federal investment in COVID-19 testing supplies,” said AdvaMed president & CEO Scott Whitaker in a statement. “Testing is absolutely a critical part of bringing this pandemic under control, which is why our diagnostics companies, from Day One, have collaborated closely with the federal government to continue rapidly developing and manufacturing at scale the quality diagnostic and serology tests we need to save lives. Even with increasing numbers of vaccinations, testing for screening, surveillance, diagnosis and epidemiological study will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s, and the world’s, ongoing response to COVID-19.”

The diagnostics industry has manufactured and shipped more than 370 million molecular COVID-19 tests to hospitals, laboratories and other sites in the U.S., according to data in the AdvaMed COVID-19 testing supply registry. The industry is also currently shipping millions of antigen and serology/antibody tests each week with tens of millions of more tests per month anticipated in the near future, the trade group noted.

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