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FIND, Unitaid Invest $50M in COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Development

NEW YORK – FIND along with global health agency Unitaid have partnered to invest $50 million in COVID-19 diagnostics and treatment. The funding will be distributed in the form of seven grants aimed to help fill testing and treatment gaps in low- and middle-income countries, the agencies said on Tuesday.

The grants are intended to adapt novel strategies specifically to the needs of 22 low- and middle-income countries, and to generate evidence to support global scale-up, FIND and Unitaid said in a statement. This evidence will in turn inform World Health Organization guidelines and national policies.

The grants will be implemented by Aurum Institute/KNCV, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, FIOTEC, ISGlobal, Partners In Health, and Population Services International. They will be implemented "through a transparent, competitive process" following a request for proposals launched in April among Unitaid's current partners.

The grants are expected to leverage existing laboratory and testing networks to offer additional testing options, such as "simple, accurate, and affordable antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests" and COVID-19 self-tests. The grants will also support the introduction of emerging therapeutics as they become recommended, "including new or repurposed medicines, small molecules, and monoclonal antibodies," the agencies said.

The grants were made in the context of the diagnostics and the therapeutics pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and the FIND–Unitaid co-investment coincides with the ACT-A's renewed mandate for 2022 to accelerate the development and delivery of critical tools.

FIND and Unitaid further noted that promising new medicines — including the oral antiviral molnupiravir, codeveloped by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics — are on the horizon, and ACT-A partners are anticipating a series of market interventions to ensure that these medicines are available in sufficient quantities and at the lowest possible price for all countries in need.

Rapidly testing people with mild COVID-19 symptoms for treatment initiation "depends on strong links between COVID-19 testing and the availability of medicine across every country," they added.

Bill Rodriguez, CEO of FIND, noted that millions of people in many countries won't have access to vaccines for months, so test-and-treat strategies are vital to save lives. "With exciting new treatment options on the near horizon, we must work together to identify the people who need treatment and ensure they have access to effective therapies without delay," he added.

Philippe Duneton, executive director of Unitaid, said that with the number of COVID-19 reported cases and deaths increasing globally, "the pandemic is far from over, and inequities in access to lifesaving health products persist." Equitable access to testing and treatment "is urgently needed to change the curve of the pandemic and help avert millions of deaths," he said.