NIH launches 'Shark Tank'-style contest to develop new testing technologies

NIH launches 'Shark Tank'-style contest to develop new testing technologies
© Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday announced a contest aimed at finding new technologies to expand coronavirus testing capacity, with the goal of deploying millions of tests per week by the end of summer. 

Officials likened the program to the television show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of judges who can choose to invest in them. 

The NIH program will have a $500 million pot of funding, using money Congress provided in the most recent response package, that will be awarded to promising testing ideas. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Ideas approved by the panel will be matched with funding as well as experts who can help develop the idea. 

“We need all innovators, from the basement to the boardroom, to come together to advance diagnostic technologies, no matter where they are in development,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement. “Now is the time for that unmatched American ingenuity to bring the best and most innovative technologies forward to make testing for COVID-19 widely available.”  

The NIH added in a news release that “the goal is to make millions of accurate and easy-to-use tests per week available to all Americans by the end of summer 2020, and even more in time for the flu season.”

The goal of the project is to improve the testing process by developing tests that can be conducted at home or at the point of care, or new technologies that otherwise speed the testing process. 

Experts have long been calling for the United States to significantly increase its testing capacity as a key step towards safely reopening the country. Harvard researchers, for example, estimate the country needs at least 500,000 tests per day, up from about 200,000 per day currently. 

Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns MORE (R-Mo.) were among the main congressional backers of funding for the “Shark Tank” approach in the last response bill. Potential applicants can find more information online.   

Alexander announced a hearing of the Senate Health Committee on May 7 to hear from Collins about the program.