April 21, 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, announced that their proposal to bring millions of new COVID-19 tests to market passed the Senate as part of the latest coronavirus response bill. The measure includes $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health specifically to work with public and private-sector partners in a “shark tank”-like effort to speed the development of new technologies for the millions of diagnostic and serologic tests that experts say are needed to fight the coronavirus and restart the economy.
“We have to move quickly to get millions of COVID-19 tests into the hands of health care providers to more effectively combat the coronavirus,” said Blunt. “This funding will help fast track the best ideas out there to meet the demand for a vastly expanded texting capability. Once we have a fast, accurate and easy way of determining who has the virus, or who has had the virus and may have built some immunity, people will more confidently get back to work, school, and daily life. I urge our colleagues in the House to support this effort and get this bill to the president’s desk.”
“We now have a funded competitive ‘shark tank’ — much like the reality-TV show about entrepreneurs, but this time utilizing the capacities of government itself, in coordination with the private sector — to pull out all the stops and create new technologies designed to produce tens of millions of diagnostic tests by August,” said Alexander. “If there’s a bold idea out there that will work, this bill will help make sure the funding is available to get these tests in the hands of health care providers quickly.”
In a Washington Post op-ed published yesterday, Blunt and Alexander laid out their “shark tank” proposal to provide surge funding to NIH and other agencies “to advance other research, giving money to states to buy testing equipment, improve data reporting, conduct tests and operate testing centers, and implement contact tracing to identify those who’ve come in contact with sick people so they, too, can quarantine themselves.”
Blunt and Alexander previously worked together to secure free antibody testing to determine whether someone has had the coronavirus and developed antibodies, in line with the full coverage for diagnostic tests that was included in the phase two coronavirus response legislation.