Tests to Speed Flu Detection Advance in Development

Tests that may help health care professionals diagnose influenza more quickly and accurately have received support from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is supporting the development of tests that may help health care professionals diagnose influenza more quickly and accurately.

Through 2 contracts with diagnostic device developers, the ASPR is advancing tests that could potentially increase influenza pandemic preparedness by increasing diagnostic capabilities in primary care clinics, hospitals, and other near-patient care settings.

A 3.5-year, $12.9 million contract awarded to Alere Inc. will advance the development of a low-cost molecular test that could determine whether a patient has an infection caused by a seasonal influenza virus within 15 minutes. Another 2-year, $7.9 million contract will allow InDevR Inc. to move forward with a biochip test that could identify seasonal influenza and recognize novel flu viruses within 4 hours. The latter award also includes options to extend the contract up to $14.7 million over 4 years.

“Administering fast and inexpensive tests at the point of care has tangible benefits to personal and public health, particularly in helping doctors prescribe the right therapy immediately,” said Robin Robinson, director of ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, whose office will oversee the development programs. “Prescribing medication or other therapies in a more targeted way is good stewardship and will be critical to reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”

The ASPR noted the new diagnostic platforms might eventually help health care professionals distinguish viral influenza infections from bacterial ones, which would assist them in choosing the best treatment method, as well as reduce unnecessary antibiotic use. Such improved flu testing would also alert public health officials to community outbreaks of respiratory illness.