WebMD News Brief

3M, MIT to Develop Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test

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July 16, 2020 -- Industrial and consumer goods conglomerate 3M is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create an antigen test for the coronavirus, the company announced on Tuesday.

They plan to develop a test that would show results within minutes. The ultimate goal is to manufacture a low-cost, paper-based device that is similar to a home pregnancy test, according to Reuters. Consumers could use the test at home and won’t need to be sent to a lab.

“We are seeking to improve the speed, accessibility and affordability of testing for the virus, a major step in helping to prevent its spread,” John Banovetz, 3M’s chief technology officer, said in the statement.

Antigen tests look for the proteins of the virus. Typically, antigens can be detected quickly, which means these tests can be produced at lower prices than others.

At the same time, antigen tests may not detect all active infections, according to the FDA, and aren’t as sensitive as the diagnostic tests used by labs to confirm infection with COVID-19.

“This means that positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection,” according to the FDA.

Once the test is developed, 3M could make millions of tests per day, the company said. The group hopes to have the test ready by late summer or early fall, according to the statement.

The partnership is being funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program, which was launched in April to develop new COVID-19 tests. The $500,000 grant will fund a 4-week research project to show that the test works and that it can be scaled for large commercial production.

The MIT research team is led by Hadley Sikes in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Her lab specializes in molecular innovation that improves rapid protein tests.

“There is a pressing need for a highly scalable rapid test,” Sikes said in the 3M statement. “Joining forces with 3M and the NIH has greatly enhanced our collective efforts toward swift detection of the virus and a potential tool to help mitigate and contain this public health crisis.”

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 16, 2020

Sources

3M, “3M and MIT developing a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19.”

Reuters, “3M, MIT partner to make rapid COVID-19 antigen test.”

FDA, “FDA Authorizes First Antigen Test to Help in the Rapid Detection of the Virus the Causes COVID-19 in Patients.”

MIT, “Hadley D. Sikes Lab.”

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