UCI Beall Applied Innovation recently hosted a virtual event on the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) unprecedented rapid acceleration of diagnostics initiative, with special guest speaker Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the NIH.
Just weeks after many parts of the U.S. were given stay-at-home orders in March 2020, the NIH and NIBIB were fast-tracking programs designed to increase the nation’s COVID-19 diagnostic testing capabilities.
In April of 2020, Tromberg, who was the former director of UC Irvine’s Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, and his team at the NIBIB launched a program devoted to the rapid acceleration of diagnostics (RADx): RADx-Tech/Advanced Technology Platforms (ATP). This program is entirely focused on the development and commercialization of innovative testing technologies, which includes validating, scaling up and moving those technologies into manufacturing, expansion, delivery and dissemination, in a matter of months.
The program invited companies to submit proposals for innovative technologies in the diagnostics space. Over a roughly six-month time frame, nearly 3,000 proposals were carefully evaluated, reviewed and validated, culminating into a few dozen technologies that were selected and moved into the manufacturing phase.
“To really underscore this, normally it takes five to six years to make it from your idea all the way out to that manufacturing, expansion and distributing of tens or hundreds of thousands of tests per day,” said Tromberg. “And we’ve tried to compress all of this into a five-to-six-month process.”
The RADx-Tech/ATP program borrowed the innovation funnel concept used by commercialization and tech programs throughout the country to evaluate the technologies and optimize their outcomes. The intent was to expand COVID-19 testing – including the types of testing technologies used, the number of tests produced, as well as testing access – with the ultimate goal of drastically increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available per day in the U.S.
While the program was fast-tracked in response to the pandemic, Tromberg is optimistic that this efficient, rapid development process will become the new standard.
“This has been kind of like the super bowl for our field,” said Tromberg. “We’ve dramatically expanded our budget, we will end up investing in new testing technologies over a billion dollars in an incredibly short period of time, and it’s helped us implement our vision for engineering the future of health.”
Main photo: Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., speaks at Pathways to Cures: Translational Science Research Day in 2019.
Photo by: Yuxin Cha, Ben Li, Emily Morrison