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NIH's RADx Awards $107M to Radical COVID-19 Dx Approaches

NEW YORK – The National Institutes of Health announced Monday it has awarded more than $107 million to projects aimed at addressing gaps in SARS-CoV-2 testing and surveillance using novel approaches.

Through a Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative called RADx Radical, or RADx-rad, the NIH is supporting non-traditional approaches and reimagined uses of existing tools, in particular supporting 49 research projects and grant supplements at 43 US institutions.

In a statement, NIH Director Francis Collins said that solving a problem as complicated as the COVID-19 pandemic will require new ideas, tools, and technologies.

"These awards from the RADx-rad program provide superb examples of outside-the-box concepts that will help us overcome this pandemic and give us a cadre of devices and tactics to confront future outbreaks," Collins said.

The awards focus on "non-traditional viral screening approaches, such as biological or physiological markers, new analytical platforms with novel chemistries or engineering, rapid detection strategies, point-of-care devices, and home-based testing technologies," according to the statement.

Example awards include an electrochemical biosensor, a diagnostic breathalyzer, a real-time airborne detector for continuous surveillance of a large space, and biosensing and detection technologies to spot signatures of COVID-19 from human skin or mouth samples.

Other projects the agency cited are a platform that integrates biosensing with touchscreen or other digital devices to achieve automatic, early detection and tracing of SARS-CoV-2 in real-time, a novel test to independently assess smell and taste function in individuals who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19, and development of wastewater technologies and data collection methods for detecting and estimating SARS-CoV-2 community infection levels. 

The RADx-rad initiative will also support two intermural projects, NIH said. It will award $1 million to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for developing barcoded screening of SARS-CoV-2 and $200,000 to the National Library of Medicine for a Nationwide Early-Warning System and Data Platform to aid policy decisions for public health management of viral diseases.

A $1.5 billion initiative, RADx was launched in April and includes four sub-programs: RADx Tech, RADx Advanced Technology Platforms, RADx Underserved Populations, and RADx Radical. The overall program leverages the existing NIH Point-of-Care Technology Research Network, or POCTRN.

So far this year, RADx awarded $249 million to seven diagnostics developers, then $129 million to an additional nine diagnostic firms, and funded six Phase 2 contracts totaling more than $98 million. Through the RADx-UP program, it has also awarded more than $283 million across 55 institutions.