The Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) president-elect Greg S. Martin, MD, MSc, FCCM, is among the experts tapped to lead a national effort to super-charge the innovation, development, and commercialization of COVID-19 testing.
The Atlanta Center for Microsystems Engineered Point-of-Care Technologies (ACME-POCT), for which Dr. Martin serves as a co-principal investigator, is one of four U.S. testing centers that will lead the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) newly launched Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.
Dr. Martin and his ACME-POCT team are uniquely poised to be leaders in the “Shark Tank-like” rapid selection process. They will lead teams to evaluate hundreds – possibly thousands – of proposals from NIH’s call for innovative technologies, which urges scientists and inventors with a rapid testing technology to compete in a national COVID-19 testing challenge. Finalists will be matched with technical, business, and manufacturing experts from the Point-of-Care Technologies Research Network (POCTRN), while technologies relatively far along in development will be put on a fast track for commercialization. The goal is to make millions of accurate and easy-to-use tests per week available to all Americans by the end of summer 2020 and even more in time for the next influenza season. The group has received more than 300 proposals since the call went out last week.
“We have been evaluating and facilitating the development of a broad array of point-of-care technologies for the last three years at the Atlanta center,” said Dr. Martin. Successes from ACME-POCT usually focused on the development and translation of a wide variety of microsystems-engineered technologies, have included mobile health apps, wearable heart and lung monitors, and consumer-oriented home-testing devices. “Our projects have been broad and aimed at helping people take care of themselves or helping clinicians take care of their patients. Now, we have been asked to adapt and are focusing exclusively on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 for the next several months.”
The RADx Initiative, from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), is an opportunity to expand the pool of technologies that can be considered for point-of-care or home-based testing. It casts a wide net for solutions beyond the large companies in the testing space that may be relying upon standard platforms or typical techniques. “Something else could be developed that works more quickly, works better in the home environment or could be scaled to test many millions of people per day. These could be very valuable advances for the country,” according to Dr. Martin.
And, while the entire country stands to benefit from widespread, reliable, and fast testing, few more so than the critical care professionals who have been risking their lives to care for patients while continually worrying about spreading this deadly virus to loved ones.
“If you work in an intensive care unit or emergency room, and you are potentially exposed every day, part of what may help you, your colleagues, and your family would be confidence that you’re not spreading the virus to others,” Dr. Martin said.
Testing also is integral to slowing the spread, identifying outbreaks, and preparing for clustered outbreaks that lead to hospital surges of patients with COVID-19. It has huge implications for returning to the “new normal,” getting people back to school and work as well as safely reopening businesses. SCCM is proud that its president-elect will be leading an effort so important to the critical care community and the public at large.
“There’s a lot of good things happening right now,” he said. “In most places around the country, we see plateauing or declining rates of COVID-19 cases. Part of reducing transmission will be having more tests. The fact we are doing this very quickly – planned for the next six months – is a tremendous advance. Offering more resources and expertise to existing efforts will help prevent future surges that overwhelm hospitals and are the source of so much stress and anxiety for healthcare providers and the public.”
The ACME-POCT principal investigators comprise Dr. Martin, who in addition to serving as president-elect of SCCM is a clinical pulmonologist and critical care physician at Emory University and chair of critical care at Grady Memorial Hospital; Wilbur A. Lam, MD, PhD, a clinical hematologist at Emory, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and a Georgia Tech bioengineer with expertise in POC diagnostic development and commercialization; and Oliver Brand, PhD, a renowned microsystems engineer and head of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology. The other three centers participating in the RADx Initiative are the Center for Point-of-Care Technologies Research for Sexually Transmitted Diseases at Johns Hopkins, the Center for Innovation in Point of Care Technologies for HIV/AIDS at Northwestern, and the Center for Advancing Point of Care in Heart, Lung, Blood, and Sleep Diseases. These four groups are part of the Point of Care Technology Research Network.
Together, Dr. Martin and the many experts contributing to RADx Initiative will shape a new world where healthcare professionals and the public live in less fear of COVID-19.
This is not Dr. Martin’s first time in the national spotlight related to COVID-19 response. Earlier this year, he was invited by Anthony S. Fauci, MD, to serve on the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel, which published the nation’s first treatment guidelines for patients with the virus. The guidelines incorporated much of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) Guidelines on the Management of Critically Ill Adults with Coronavirus Disease 2019 and included a section specific to critical care. The guidelines also address maternal and fetal populations, children, therapeutic options under investigation, and concomitant medications such as corticosteroids. For more on corticosteroids and COVID-19, check out this Critical Care Explorations article and this discussion thread.
Dr. Martin also is not the first SCCM member to hold an important role in the push to improve testing. In March, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, a prominent critical care physician who has a long history of membership and involvement SCCM, was named chief coordinator for the nation’s COVID-19 testing efforts after the U.S. was slow to ramp up testing, even as the virus was first spreading in the United States.