Australian firm signs $300m deal with US government for COVID tests

Washington: The Biden administration has signed a $300 million ($US230 million) deal with Australian firm Ellume to dramatically ramp up the production and distribution of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests in the US.

The deal between Ellume, the Department of Defence and the Department of Health and Human Services includes the purchase of 8.5 million COVID-19 tests that will be distributed across America.

In December Ellume became the first company to win approval from US regulators to sell rapid at-home COVID-19 tests that don’t require a prescription.

Brisbane diagnostics company Ellume has signed a major deal with the new Biden administration for its rapid COVID test.

Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 response team, said on Tuesday (AEDT) that the Brisbane-based company is expected to produce 19 million tests a month by the end of the year.

Slavitt said the deal was an important step towards mass testing and a lowering of prices.

“There’s a chicken and egg problem, which we have taken a step to solve today,” he said.

When announcing an emergency use authorisation for the tests last year Stephen Hahn, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hailed the moment as “a major milestone in diagnostic testing for COVID-19”.

Lamar Alexander, then the chair of the Senate health committee, described it as “a genuine breakthrough in COVID-19 testing”.

Ellume’s test is expected to cost around US$30 ($39) and deliver results in around 20 minutes.

To use the test, a person uses a nasal swab and inserts their sample into the analyser. Their COVID-19 results are then transmitted to their smartphone via Bluetooth.

Sean Parsons, Ellume’s founder and chief executive, has said that thee company’s main focus was on the US rather than countries such as Australia where the virus is much more under control.

“Our technology is best suited to places where the coronavirus numbers are making it hard for the healthcare system to keep up,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in December.

“When we’re supplying as much as America can use, we will look at other countries but right now it’s all about the US.”

Parsons founded Ellume in 2010 after working on the swine flu pandemic, and went on to create the first at-home test for influenza.

The company has around 200 employees, most of them in Australia.

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