XPrize launches $5M COVID-19 testing competition backed by Amazon, Google, Anthem

CVS drive thru COVID test
To address a current backlog in COVID-19 testing, XPrize has launched a Rapid Covid Testing competition that will award $5 million to teams that develop faster, cheaper and easier to use tests. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

XPrize has launched a Rapid Covid Testing competition that will award $5 million to teams that develop faster, cheaper and easier-to-use COVID-19 testing methods at scale.

A healthcare coalition made up of major payers is backing the initiative, along with supporting partners Google, Amazon, Illumina, Ancestry, Twist Bioscience, Thermo Fisher Scientific and others.

Blue Shield of California and Cambia Health Solutions are founding members of the initiative, along with Health Care Service Corporation, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

The Anthem Foundation and Anthem serve as founding anchor partners.

The initiative's aim is to tap the global innovation community to develop a faster, more efficient, low-cost COVID-19 testing method to accelerate the safe return to school and work.

The competition is focused on developing innovations that can support frequent testing with a fast turnaround time and are cost effective and easier to use with the ability of self-collection. Most currently available COVID-19 tests are expensive, slow, invasive and limited by supply chain capacity, according to XPrize officials.

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New, low-cost testing solutions could range from testing devices with 15-minute results to distributed lab testing methods with "next morning" results.

The XPrize Rapid Covid Testing aims to meet the need to scale testing capabilities by 100 times past the current standard, the level of increase needed to more safely return to everyday activities, the organization said.

“Any strategy to contain the virus is completely reliant on frequent, fast and reliable testing, but testing supply chains are currently stretched to the limit. When coupled with accelerating demand, test result turnaround times will slow even further unless new solutions are brought to the table,” said Amir Banifatemi, chief innovation and growth officer at XPrize, in a statement.

The organizations also are collaborating with OpenCovidScreen, a nonprofit founded by scientists and business leaders to drive needed innovation through “Open Science."

"To be successful in working through this, we need to innovate and, working in collaboration with XPrize and the coalition, this is a huge step forward to try to solve for the challenges that COVID-19 presents," Amy Khan, M.D., executive medical director at Cambia Health Solutions, told Fierce Healthcare.

"It’s essential that as we get back to work and go back to school, we engage these innovators to bring affordable, rapid and accurate tests to communities to effectively manage risk in the population and keep people safe," she said.

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Khan added, "The importance of this initiative in not only supporting our members and communities health, but also our employer’s businesses and our economy. This competition is a terrific way to more quickly get these needed tests into the hands of those who need them to help us effectively manage our clinical and public health response to this pandemic."

Teams must register to join the six-month competition by Aug. 31.

The winning teams will develop COVID-19 tests that are radically affordable compared to what’s currently available on the market. For about the price of a latte, the tests will be equal to (or better than) commercial offerings at measuring sensitivity, specificity and limit of detection, according to XPrize.

The winning teams will also be able to successfully deploy and conduct a minimum of 500 tests per week at a live testing site within 60 days, and have the potential to scale their solutions to thousands of tests per week.

Teams in the competition will be required to meet these requirements:

  • A maximum turnaround time of 12 hours from sample to result.
  • Testing method must use a minimally invasive collection procedure.
  • Pilot solutions must cost less than $15 per test, including all materials, and these costs must be further reduced once scaled.  

Up to 20 qualifying teams will be announced Sept. 15, and finalist teams will be announced Oct. 13. The final rounds and deployment will happen from early November through mid-January, and the grand prize winners will be announced sometime in the first quarter of 2021.