Senate ‘shark tank’ competition for coronavirus testing hooks strong response

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Fans of the reality show, Shark Tank, may want to tune in to the U.S. Senate.

Thursday’s product pitch: coronavirus testing. Lawmakers on the Senate health committee were the sharks, hearing from two scientists, the entrepreneurs, about their latest efforts to develop new technologies to ramp up testing in the U.S.

“Let us hope that out of Dr. Collins’ shark tank will emerge at least one mighty great white shark that will help us combat this disease,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, who chairs the committee. “We couldn’t find anyone who believed that current technology could produce the tens of millions of tests necessary to put this virus behind us.”

Alexander and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, pitched their plan for a shark tank-esque competition among the nation’s leading scientists to their colleagues, and they took the bait in the latest round of coronavirus relief. Congress approved $1.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health to fast track new COVID-19 testing technology by August that Alexander said will give Americans the confidence to go back to work and school.

“The game is on,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told the committee. “It’s going to be a wild ride.”

Collins said he has already received more than a thousand applications with ideas to develop tests that are more reliable, user friendly and tech savvy.

“Some of these arrivals in the shark tank are already big enough fish that they’re ready to move on,” Collins said. “In 27 years at NIH, I have honestly never seen anything move this quickly.”

Lawmakers applauded the efforts, but some like Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, want to make sure the tests will start going to some of the country’s hardest hit, rural areas.

“This pandemic has shone a spotlight on the health disparities in this country,” said Jones.

Collins said that’s the ultimate test for the scientists in his shark tank challenge.

“They [tests] need to be accessible to everyone,” he said.

Congress allocated $1 billion to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to work with NIH to accelerate the production of these tests.

Lawmakers are hoping to have even more tests available by flu season.

“I must tell you, senators, that this is a stretch goal that goes well beyond what most experts think will be possible,” Collins said.

However, Collins remains optimistic.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. has conducted more than seven million coronavirus diagnostic tests.

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