Hassan questions NIH officials on 'Shark Tank' coronavirus drug trials

WASHINGTON (WCAX) They're calling it the 'Shark Tank' of coronavirus drug trials. Federal health officials were on Capitol Hill Thursday to explain the National Institute of Health's plan to rapidly deploy COVID-19 testing.

The NIH started accepting submissions April 28th for new and innovative ways to test for the disease. The next step is a rapid selection process aimed at getting the best candidates to trials quickly. The best submissions would be validated and get regulatory approval. The ultimate goal is scaling up to deploy millions of tests every week by this fall.

New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan used a video call to question officials. "What steps will the NIH take to ensure that companies receiving funding or support through the shark tank initiative are producing high quality products?" Hassan said.

"It's a critical question Senator and it is a critical step in the shark tank phase one to approach. We're taking which is along fairly early on that pathway -- the technology has to be validated. That is, it has to be tested against a variety of gold standard samples of varying degrees of presence of the virus to see whether it is sensitive enough to be able to detect the virus when it's there, and specific enough so that it doesn't give a false positive on a sample that doesn't have virus in it. That's absolutely essential," said the NIH's Dr. Francis Collins.

As of Wednesday the NIH had received nearly 1,100 submissions and 79 have already been approved. Collins said he's never seen anything move this quickly.