Learn about federal initiatives and the funding available to fight COVID-19.
Currently, there is a funding program underway called RADx. This stands for Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics. There are a number of RADx programs, each with a distinct responsibility. RADx is sponsored by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) which is an offshoot of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is also supported by the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation & Technology (CIMIT) and the Point Of Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN).
RADx was initiated by a need for rapid COVID-19 testing in the US, specifically when the disease was just beginning to stretch across borders. POCTRN released a statement on April 15, 2020 to the NIH to ask about this rapid testing, and the possibility of funding. This announcement got the attention of two senators, Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) and Roy Blunt (Missouri), which propelled the proposal through Washington DC.
The RADx was funded and formed by the The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, awarding $1.5 billion dollars to the NIH and $500 million to the NIBIB for the purpose of investigating rapid COVID testing in the US.
There were 4 different areas of RADx that the money was segmented into:
Radx Tech awarded $500 million dollars for a highly competitive rapid 3-phase challenge to identify the best candidates for at-home or point-of-care tests for COVID-19.
This awarded $230 million for the rapid scale-up of advanced technologies. This aimed to enhance and validate throughput by creating ultra-high throughput machines and facilities.
This awarded $500 million to interlinked community-based demonstration projects. This was to enable and enhance testing for Americans in traditionally underserved populations.
The final RADx category was RADx Radical. This aimed to develop advanced, novel, and non-traditional approaches for COVID-19 testing.
Check out this article from the New England Journal of Medicine to hear more about the RADx Initiative.
There are 2 main goals for the RADx Tech and RADx ATP initiatives. These goals are:
Essentially, RADx is working on optimizing the efficiency and availability of COVID-19 tests. This could be through a variety of ways, and RADx is attempting to analyze the best ways to complete this testing, not just the fastest.
The initiative is also concerned about the type of test settings. Point of Care (POC) testing is done almost immediately, and with immediate results. This type of test is lucrative for a fast-spreading disease like COVID-19. Home-based is exactly like you would imagine: testing that is able to be done at home. Laboratory testing is traditional testing (and the most common type as of October 2020). The RADx initiative is expected to contribute a great deal to the amount of tests done per day in the US. As of October of 2020, there are about 1 million tests being completed each day, and this is projected to increase to 6 million by the end of the year.
The Point of Care Technologies Research Network (POCTRN) has been extremely involved with the development of rapid coronavirus testing. The network works to connect various research institutions together to form new ideas and collaborations. These are mainly universities, such as Johns Hopkins University, University of Massachusetts, Northwestern University, and Georgia Tech. POCTRN was actually established in 2007, but was expanded in 2020 to meet the needs of the global pandemic.
There were many companies that applied for RADx funding to help with rapid coronavirus testing. Traditionally, narrowing down awardees and actually sending out money from the NIH can take multiple years. RADx has a time sensitive goal, so they are attempting to get it done much faster than that, around 5 months! This process involves narrowing down 707 applications to about 32 eligible companies.
Around 90% of the funded companies are working on point of care technologies. Hopefully because of this, there will be COVID-19 testing that can be completed in around an hour on the market soon.
Ever since the entrance of the novel coronavirus on American land, the federal government has been investigating ways to test and fight it. There is a great website, linked here, that tracks US federal spending on COVID-19 related research. If you click on the link you can see there are 3 categories of US spending:
In addition, each of these actions led to money going to different resources, one mainly being health agency funding. There was $12 billion dollars awarded to health agencies, $8 billion going to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and around $4 billion to the NIH.
It may come as a surprise that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was also awarded funding. This is because there are various researchers within the institution that are experts on immunology. That funding was used to research the immune effects from COVID-19 and possible solutions. Check out this link to learn more about other NCI COVID-19 initiatives.
Another organization that is often overlooked when discussion federal funding is BARDA. BARDA stands for Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. It’s aim is to protect the US from biological threats, natural and unnatural. BARDA was awarded $13.3 billion dollars, mainly to fund vaccine research. Around 89% of BARDA’s spending has been associated with vaccine development, as opposed to diagnostics or therapeutics. Check out this website from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that explains how to work with BARDA.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) was also given money to help fund research for COVID-19 from small businesses. There were about 500 NSF awards granted from April - July. This period was part of their rapid response initiative. Now, the NSF is still accepting SBIR proposals, especially relating to the coronavirus, but at as less rapid rate. SBIR proposals at the NSF are a 2 step process, the accepted pitch and the full proposal (which is then peer reviewed). Check out this article for more information on finding funding from the NSF.
The Department of Defense is also heavily involved in COVID-related funding opportunities. They are working especially hard to protect soldiers from COVID outbreaks, but also looking to fund general research. The DoD (as of October 2020) has 156 notices for funding, 53 of these being for small businesses. These can all be found at https://beta.sam.gov/.
If you want to learn more about DoD funding, check out this article.
One thing to take away from his article is that government money is STILL available to fund coronavirus research. Even though the first CARES act was passed in late March, the money is still available (in October). And, if additional legislation is passed, there could be even more funding before the end of 2020. The RADx initiatives have also been working hard to develop rapid COVID-19 testing for healthcare workers and the general public.
This information comes from a talk sponsored by the SBDC @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation and University Lab Partners featuring Dr. Molly Schmid.
Dr. Schmid brings more than 20 years of experience in the life science and small business technology industries and has held a variety of impressive leadership roles in bioinformatics, pharmaceuticals and health technologies, as well as the entrepreneurial space.
The SBDC @ UCI Applied Innovation is a resource for any high-technology, high-growth, scalable venture from both the Orange County and UCI ecosystem that needs assistance with business planning, business development and funding-readiness. The center hosts several VC and Angel investors on site, as well as various ecosystem partners and industry professionals who work closely with the entrepreneurs.
If you want to learn more about business planning, check out this article from ULP about SWOT analysis here.