October 1, 2014
HHS pursues detection tests for influenza
Potential tests to help doctors diagnose influenza sooner and more accurately will advance in development under contracts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The tests could help boost influenza pandemic preparedness by increasing diagnostic capabilities in near-patient care settings such as doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals.
One award will advance the development of a simple, low-cost molecular test under a 3.5-year, $12.9 million contract with Alere Inc., headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts. The other award, to InDevR Inc., of Boulder, Colorado, will allow a biochip test to move forward under a two-year, $7.9 million contract with options to extend the contract up to $14.7 million over four years.
The tests use different technologies to detect influenza viruses and offer different levels of information about the viruses detected. Both tests would use swabs taken from a patient’s nasal passage.
Alere will develop its iNAT Influenza A&B test which could yield results within 15 minutes and show whether a patient has an infection caused by a seasonal influenza virus type A or B infection. The company will conduct studies necessary to submit for U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance or approval, including a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments waiver for iNAT, which would allow the rapid molecular test to be performed in the near-patient settings.
InDevR will develop its FluChip-8G test to identify seasonal influenza viruses and recognize novel flu viruses within four hours in near-patient settings. Currently, this type of detailed genetic testing is conducted in state, federal, or specialty laboratories, and can take days to complete. If successful during the first two years, InDevR will conduct clinical studies necessary to submit for clearance or approval from the FDA and will develop a fully automated version of the test.
“Administering fast and inexpensive tests at the point of care has tangible benefits to personal and public health, particularly in helping doctors prescribe the right therapy immediately,” said Robin Robinson, Ph.D., director of ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) whose office will oversee the development programs. “Prescribing medication or other therapies in a more targeted way is good stewardship and will be critical to reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”
Distinguishing viral influenza infections from bacterial infections could aid doctors and patients in choosing the best treatment, and could reduce unnecessary antibiotic use, as antibiotics are ineffective in treating illness caused by viruses. In addition, testing for influenza viruses in doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals could improve use of precautions among patients and health care workers to reduce spread of influenza from person to person.
Improved tests available in more settings can alert doctors and public health authorities to community outbreaks of respiratory illness and signal new viruses causing illness. A new influenza virus to which people do not have immunity could potentially spread quickly and have pandemic potential.
To help prepare the United States for pandemics, BARDA also is supporting development of other diagnostic platforms, including a test to identify drug resistance in influenza, as well as new vaccine technology, antiviral drugs, low-cost, portable ventilators and other medical equipment and supplies.
BARDA is seeking additional proposals for advanced development of new drugs and products to diagnosis and treat illness. Proposals are accepted through the broad agency announcement BAA-BARDA-13-100-SOL-19, available on www.fbo.gov.
These new programs are part of BARDA’s comprehensive integrated portfolio approach to the advanced research and development, innovation, acquisition, and manufacturing of vaccines, drugs, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products for public health emergency threats. These threats include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents, pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.
ASPR leads HHS in preparing the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security. HHS is the principal federal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. To learn more about HHS, visit hhs.gov.
To learn more about ASPR and preparedness, response and recovery from the health impacts of disasters, visit the HHS public health and medical emergency website, phe.gov. Information about influenza is available at flu.gov.