The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said today it will provide a total of $6.5 million to help two commercial diagnostic laboratories to expand capacity to conduct up to 4 million additional diagnostic tests for COVID-19 per month.
The investments in Aegis Sciences (Nashville, Tenn.) and in Sonic Healthcare USA (Austin, Texas) will provide laboratory equipment supplied by Beckman Coulter and Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO) and increase staffing and infrastructure to boost testing nationwide by an additional 1 million tests each week by early October, according to the agency.
Aegis will add laboratory staff and begin construction on new lab space at its Nashville testing facilities to meet its goal of processing more than 60,000 test samples per day beginning in September. Aegis has agreed to partner with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health to perform testing of samples from select locations with vulnerable populations, according to HHS, which did not identify the locations or patient groups. These tests will return results in under 48 hours, the agency added.
Sonic Healthcare has agreed to use the instrumentation and supplies from the HHS contract to boost testing capacity at eight testing sites, and other HHS money to finance and hasten existing expansion plans, according to the agency. Beckman Coulter is to provide equipment to help laboratories improve their workflow by up to 10,000 tests each day at 10 separate sites totaling an increase of 100,000 per day across the country.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is supplying HHS with 56 KingFisher Flex extraction and purification systems and 40 QuantStudio 7 Flex Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Each PCR test can run 384 samples at a time. These 96 systems — capable of running more than 140,000 samples per day, in total — will be placed at Aegis Science’ Nashville laboratories and at Sonic Healthcare USA labs around the country.
“We are committed to leveraging every possible opportunity to expand the nation’s SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity over the next several months,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir in a news release. “For this opportunity, we were able to match available instrumentation and reagents with commercial labs that were ready to immediately expand their services. We are honored to work with these labs and life sciences tools companies to ensure increased access to testing as may be needed this fall.”
Aegis has begun to receive the Thermo Fisher equipment and its staff is already training on it, according to Joel Galanter, the company’s chief legal officer. By September, Aegis expects to have built out approximately 18000 ft2 of lab space — up from about 3000 ft2 in March — and have over 300 employees in its COVID‐19 lab.
Aegis has been working closely with several state and local governments and has sought to coordinate efforts with HHS since the onset of the public health emergency, Galanter said in a statement to MassDevice.
“This valuable collaboration with HHS underscores the critical role that reference labs like Aegis can play in responding to the public health
emergency by expanding community access to accurate testing with a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time,” added Aegis CEO Frank Basile.“HHS support is an important element in providing Aegis sciences with the confidence to accelerate investment in expanding lab capacity to serve unmet community needs for accurate and timely Covid‐19 testing.”
The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This article has been updated with comments from Aegis.