A Year Into the Pandemic, COVID-19 Tests Can Be ‘Cheaper Than a Latte’

Breanna De Vera

Breanna de Vera is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California, studying journalism and English literature. She previously reported for the campus publications The Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media.

A Year Into the Pandemic, COVID-19 Tests Can Be ‘Cheaper Than a Latte’

In the first few months of the pandemic, there was no way to buy a COVID-19 test. Then, tests were only done in labs and took several days, if not weeks. So in July, Culver City-based XPRIZE offered $5 million to any group that could make testing accessible and affordable for companies and schools trying to reopen.

On Tuesday, XPRIZE named five winners all developing tests that take less than 12 hours, cost $15 or less and are relatively less painful than the nasal swabs or as Jeff Huber, the XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing Tech Lead and co-founder of OpenCovidScreen, call them "nasal torture devices."

One solution called the V-CHEK by Carlsbad-based Reliable LFC takes only 10 minutes to determine whether someone is COVID-19 positive. It is the only antigen testing solution among the winners; the other four are RNA testing, which can be slower, though more accurate.

"'Drive-thru testing center' is a misnomer," said Bill Pagels, CEO of Reliable LFC. "Most of them are not drive-thru testing centers, they're drive-thru sampling centers. So what we plan to do is make sure they are drive-thru testing centers, and provide people with results on the spot."

V-CHEK will likely receive FDA emergency use authorization in the next few months, and begin rolling out its tests to in-car testing centers. Pagels said military units and airports are also target markets where the speed of testing is imperative.

ChromaCode and Mirimus already have commercial solutions available, and the other three teams are in the process of regulatory approval, according to Huber.

Other winners include the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Alveo Technologies. All will each receive $500,000 to develop their solutions and produce enough to deploy on a large scale. After a successful large scale rollout to testing centers and other target markets, the teams will each receive another $500,000.

In addition to their accuracy and safety, the teams were judged across four factors in COVID-19 testing: frequency, quick turn around, affordability and ease. Testing regularly is one of the key components to safely open schools and businesses, Huber said. Because of this, the deep nasal swabs from earlier in the pandemic with a multi-day wait for results aren't a feasible solution for most consumers, especially when tests were running over $100 each.

"Our target for the competition was that you should be able to get a high-quality test for less than the price of a latte," said Huber. "We relaxed that a little bit to expand the pool, But the goal — the absolute cutoff — was a test result for less than $15."

Over 700 teams applied to the competition. The XPRIZE judges narrowed the pool down to 200. Each team was sent a set of synthetic samples, which they tested and then returned the results. 20 semifinalists were selected, and they sent their testing kits to independent XPRIZE judges at two different laboratories to be clinically validated.

Four other teams were selected for the Open Innovation Track, for solutions that couldn't be tested using XPRIZE's methods. Some are breathalyzer tests, and because of the difficulty of capturing a breath sample, they were not able to be tested like the other competitors. They'll share a prize pool of $1 million.

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Activision Buys Game Studio Proletariat To Expand ‘World of Warcraft’ Staff

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him

Xbox\u2019s various game developers it now owns: Activision, Blizzard and King.
Courtesy of Activision Blizzard

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Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui On How Small Funds Can Better Support Young Founders

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui On How Small Funds Can Better Support Young Founders

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui talks about why he moved earlier stage in his investing and how investors can best support founders.

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