ARLINGTON, Va. — The Department of the Air Force signed an agreement April 17 with Curative, Inc., to deploy and scale an oral fluid coronavirus test, which recently received a Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization, across Air Force installations.
The Department of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, in coordination with the Defense Health Agency and Joint Acquisition Task Force established by the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment and DHA, is managing the $13 million research and development Blanket Purchase Agreement with the COVID-19 testing startup.
The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) and DHA are the healthcare R&D funds manager, and approved the investment as a risk reduction alternative to nasal swab testing. Successful testing could also lead to broader use for testing the U.S. population.
The agreement provides for the initial production of more than 40,000 test kits and associated training for military medical personnel. Testing is expected to begin in early May. The agreement establishes one laboratory, in addition to Curative’s existing lab, and eight testing sites at yet-to-be named military installations across the continental United States. Each lab is expected to process up to 50,000 test examinations per day. These orally administered tests have an average turnaround time of 24 hours.
“For over two years, we’ve been accelerating our government purchasing system to work with innovative tech startups who need fast decisions and cash,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisitions czar. “We had the right innovation network in place to find this potentially game-changing test and strike a deal at wartime speeds. Our men and women in uniform, and our nation, need a highly-scalable coronavirus test.”
In addition to scalable production, Roper said the oral swab test could be self-administered and sealed for laboratory processing without taxing healthcare workers or medical supplies. “The entire chain of events required for testing appears to scale. Our job now is to demonstrate this quickly,” Roper said.
Clinical studies suggest Curative’s oral fluid test has equivalent sensitivity to nasopharyngeal swab tests that require a nurse. Curative has deployed its oral test kit at drive-thru and other centers in Los Angeles, testing more than 57,000 people at a rate now grown to approximately 5,000 per day. The Air Force hopes to scale this an order of magnitude in a manner replicable for national need.
“Though our starting point is the military, we’re ensuring there are no ceilings to going bigger,” Roper said. “We assigned our best and brightest from the Rapid Capabilities Office to build the plan. They’re living up to their name.”