US grants contract to Brisbane biotech firm to produce at home COVID tests creating new jobs

Posted: 2nd Feb

The United States Department of Defense 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.

Ellume founder and CEO Sean Parsons, said the contract would include building a bespoke facility in Maryland in the southern US.

"This deal which we've struck overnight with the US includes building a facility in the US, which is about three times as large, as well as supplying them with 8.5 million tests, mostly out of the American facility," Mr Parsons said.



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 $AU40, without assistance from a physician or healthcare provider.

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."


Kits only available to US citizens 

The kits will only be available to US citizens for now, with Australian authorities yet to approve at home coronavirus testing.

"We have given assurances to the US Government that we'll be sending all of our product over to the US," Mr Parsons said

He said the company would explore whether or not they could ramp up production to cater to an Australian market should the COVID-19 situation escalate here.

"The US Government supported us with $30 million in funding late last year to help scale up our Australian manufacturing facility," he said.

"In accepting that American tax payer money, we've given them assurances that all of the tests we can make will be going to America for the time being at least."



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.

Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the technology was a great example of Australian innovation.

"Full congratulations to this Brisbane-based company," Mr Birmingham said.

"It's an exciting example of the fact that Australian technology, Australian know-how, Australian manufacturing, is up to the task of helping the world in a range of areas including in this pandemic."

Mr Birmingham said the kits weren't needed in Australia just yet, as "gold standard" PCR testing is handling the current level of demands.

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.


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Source: ABC News -