NEW YORK – The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics has launched a call for proposals to accelerate the development of self-administered COVID-19 tests for low- and middle-income countries. An initial budget of $15 million will support two to three proposals.
The request for proposals is being issued as part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) diagnostics pillar, co-convened by FIND and the Global Fund. The new RFP aims to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and market availability of accurate, affordable, quality-assured, and easy-to-use SARS-CoV-2 self-tests for use in LMICs, according to a statement.
"Even with vaccines now becoming available, it is clear that we will be living with COVID-19 for a long time, and testing will continue to be critical to keep people safe," said Emma Hannay, chief access officer and ACT-Accelerator lead for FIND.
"We have seen in other infectious diseases such as HIV what a powerful impact self-testing can have in combatting epidemics — it is a key element in our arsenal against COVID-19, enabling people to take control of their own health," Hannay also said.
A central focus of the RFP is to support self-test solutions that are simple to use due to sample type requirement, how results are interpreted, instrument requirements, or the use of supporting tools such as digital solutions.
Proposals are invited from innovators, in vitro diagnostics manufacturers, and LMIC-based diagnostic stakeholders, with support available to projects "that offer best value for money." Independent funding negotiations will be conducted for each proposal, tailored to the applicant's needs and the specifics of each business case, FIND said.
Three rapid antigen tests — from Premier Medical Corporation, Abbott Rapid Diagnostics Jena, and SD Biosensor — have gained World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing to date, FIND said, but testing capacity is still highly centralized in many countries and is insufficient to meet the current demand, particularly in LMICs. FIND's own data shows a 1 to 80 ratio of tests run in LMICs compared to high-income countries, for example.
Furthermore, FIND noted that a modelling study suggests frequent testing with a rapid turnaround time has a greater impact on transmission than one-time testing using more sensitive but slower laboratory-based diagnostics, typically PCR-based. "Such serial testing strategies may detect individuals with high viral loads, who are most infectious to others, and may facilitate early isolation of the infectious individual, ultimately reducing transmission," FIND said.
There are currently no affordable SARS-CoV-2 self-tests for use in resource-limited settings, according to FIND. Although the US Food and Drug Administration has approved five tests for at-home use, "their high price prohibits widespread adoption in LMICs," FIND said, whereas low-cost technologies that are initially developed for administration by healthcare professionals could be adapted for affordable self-testing.
FIND will hold informational workshops for potential applicants on April 12.