A heavyweight partnership between industry and academic sciences is throwing their considerable weight into an important task: creating a new low-cost, rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19. Chemical industry leader 3M has partnered with MIT to create a diagnostic tool for COVID-19 that’s easy-to-use, and that can be manufactured cheaply and in large volume for mass distribution and use.
The test is currently in the research phase, with a team led by MIT’s Professor Hadley Sikes of the school’s Department of Chemical Engineering. Sikes’ laboratory has a specific focus on creating and developing tech to enhance the performance of protein tests that are meant to provide rapid, accurate results.
3M is contributing its biomaterials and bioprocessing expertise, along with its experience in creating products designed to be manufactured at scale. The goal is to create a test that detects viral antigens, a type of test first cleared for use in COVID-19 detection at the beginning of May by the FDA. These tests provide results much faster than the molecular PCR-based test — but do have a higher chance of false negatives. Still, their ability to be administered at point-of-care and return results within just minutes could help considerably in ramping up testing efforts, especially in cases where individuals aren’t necessarily presenting symptoms but are in situations where they could pose a risk to others if carrying the virus while asymptomatic.
The new 3M and MIT project is part of the RADx Tech program created by the National Institute of Health (NIH) specifically to fund the development of tests that can expand U.S. testing deployment. An initial $500,000 of funding was provided to MIT and 3M from the program, and it can potentially receive further funding after achieving other development milestones.