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3M Partners with MIT on New Virus Test

July 14, 2020
Researchers hope to produce a cheap, paper-based antibody test for the novel coronavirus that can be mass-produced.

3M Co. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently formed a partnership to research a new COVID-19 test.  According to 3M, the process is currently in an “accelerated research” stage and aims to produce a test that is fast, cheap, and accurate that can be mass-produced on a paper medium that would not need to be sent to a laboratory for results. Researchers are aiming for an antigen-based test, which specifically tests for the presence of immune cells adapted to fight the virus.

The project has been selected for accelerated development and commercialization support by the U.S. National Institute of Health as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Tech (RADx Tech) program, and has received $500,000 in validation funding from the NIH to date with the goal of demonstrating the test’s capability and deploying it as quickly as possible. A key advantage of the test would be scalability: according to 3M, manufacturing equipment could be scaled to produce millions of test units every day.

“There is a pressing need for a highly scalable rapid test,” said Professor Hadley Sikes of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering. Her research laboratory specializes in detecting and treating diseases by engineering biomolecular systems. “We are working with our colleagues at 3M to overcome the challenges to move this research from lab to impact, and find an innovative path forward to manufacture it at scale.” Sikes added that the partnership with 3M and the NIH has “greatly enhanced” efforts to develop the test.

“We are excited to collaborate with Professor Hadley Sikes and the team at MIT,” said John Banovetz, 3M CTO, in a statement. The test program at 3M is led by members of its corporate research laboratories and health care business group. “We are seeking to improve the speed, accessibility and affordability of testing for the virus, a major step in helping to prevent its spread,” he said.

The NIH’s RADx Tech features a “phase innovation funnel” that supports four weeks of intensive research into a product’s potential. Depending on how well the test performs, it will be eligible for more funds in later phases of the program.

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