At a hearing today, Senator Collins pressed top U.S. health officials on need for technological breakthrough to produce tens of millions of tests
Washington, D.C. — At a U.S. Senate Health Committee hearing this morning titled, “Shark Tank: New Tests for COVID-19,” U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Committee, underscored the need for the government to rapidly develop and scale up the domestic production of new COVID-19 tests and supplies in order to help ensure that Mainers and all Americans will have adequate testing capacity to safely reopen the economy.
The hearing featured testimony from Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Dr. Gary Disbrow of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) about progress on new technologies designed to produce tens of millions of COVID-19 tests.
Senator Collins told Dr. Collins about how a $75.5 million Defense Production Act grant will allow Puritan Medical Products to double its manufacturing of testing swabs from 20 million per month to 40 million per month. Last week, she joined leaders of Puritan and Cianbro to announce the new partnership, which includes Bath Iron Works.
“I’m proud of the fact that one of the two leading manufacturers of swabs is Puritan Medical Products, which is located in rural Guildford, Maine,” said Senator Collins. “Just last week, with support from the Defense Production Act and private investments, Puritan teamed up with Cianbro and Bath Iron Works to open a new facility in record time that will double the production of swabs.”
Senator Collins asked Dr. Collins, “What more could we be doing to tap in to the authority under the Defense Production Act so that when you do get a winner, we can be assured of a rapid scale up in manufacturing of the new test?”
“This comes back to needing to think ahead, responded Dr. Collins. “With any one of these new kinds of technologies that we are trying to encourage through the ‘Shark Tank,’ what are all of the things that you are going to be short of and you should have planned for… and if necessary come up with ways, as you have done in Maine, to double or triple the production. We need to be thinking in advance and not get caught by surprise. We will not make that mistake again.”
Senator Collins also urged Dr. Disbrow to ensure that we have the capacity to manufacture and scale up new testing technologies domestically.
“Last year, I introduced a bill called the MEDS Act after I reviewed alarming data that indicated how dependent our countries pharmaceutical market was on overseas suppliers of APIs. I discovered that 72 percent of the facilities producing APIs were located overseas and 13 percent of those were located in China,” said Senator Collins. Clearly, we should not be so dependent on foreign nations for essential ingredients for our medications, and that’s going to be really important as we develop treatment for the coronavirus.”
Senator Collins authored the Mitigating Emergency Drug Shortages (MEDS) Act with Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) to help prevent disruptions and help increase the availability of prescription drugs. Components of this bill were included as part of the Phase 3 coronavirus emergency response package that was signed into law on March 27, 2020.
As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins worked with her colleagues to secure an additional $25 billion for COVID-19 testing in the $480 billion agreement that was signed into law last month as part of Congress’ ongoing response to the pandemic. This legislation augmented the $38 billion in funding for testing, treatments, and vaccines Congress previously authorized. Maine will receive at least $16,295,844 for COVID-19 testing through this legislation. Today, Senator Collins announced that 18 health centers throughout Maine have been awarded a total of $4,732,797 to expand COVID-19 testing.