The United States Department of Defence has awarded a contract worth $US230 million ($302 million) to Brisbane-based biotech firm Ellume to ramp up production of its COVID-19 home test kits.
The money will allow increased production of the kits, boosting the number of tests undertaken in the US by 640,000 tests per day by the end of the year, with 8.5 million kits to be distributed directly by the US government.
Much of the money will go to building a bespoke facility in Maryland in the southern US.
Ellume’s COVID-19 test is the first at-home test to get US FDA emergency approval, with the company saying it has an accuracy rate of around 95 per cent.
It is designed to detect fragments of the virus from a nasal swab sample from a person as young as two years old.
It can be performed in 15 minutes with results reported via a smartphone app.
The test will be able to be purchased without a prescription in the US, for just under $40, without assistance from a physician or healthcare provider.
It will not be available for use in Australia because Australian law prevents the selling of home COVID tests.
“We want to help the US reopen as safely and as quickly as possible,” Ellume founder and CEO Sean Parsons said, after the overnight announcement from Washington DC.
White House senior advisor Andy Slavitt said the funding would help Ellume dramatically ramp up its production of the test kits, with 100,000 currently in production each month.
“That’s good, but it’s obviously not where we’ll need to be,” he told a White House briefing.
“They’ll be able to scale their production to manufacture more than 19 million test kits per month by the end of this year, 8.5 million of which are guaranteed to the US government.”
Mr Slavitt argued it was vital to have tools such as the at-home testing kits, if the US was to have any chance of bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control.
“The ability to quickly test, to contact trace and quarantine is a linchpin of our national strategy and will be a vital part of containing the virus and stopping community spread.” Mr Slavitt said.
The company has already shipped 10,000 test kits to the US from its Brisbane facility and has a target of sending 3 million tests by March.
Ellume currently employs 350 people at its facility in Richlands in Brisbane, and will increase that to over 500 in the coming months.