DISCLAIMER: Included references to commercial products does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. Department of Defense or the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense.
What do global pandemic relief efforts, the U.S. Army, and a local Maryland economy have in common?
The answer is fearless innovation, the right people, in the right place, at the right time, and an Australian-based biotech and diagnostic solutions company named Ellume.
The Art of Pandemic Possible
The swift emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic set the mitigation stakes acutely high, demanding international collaboration like never before to successfully face global pandemic relief challenges. In times of crisis, fearless innovation and having “the right people, in the right place, at the right time” can make all the difference. As the pandemic became a dreadful reality, the expert team at the Joint Project Manager for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Medical (JPM CBRN Medical) pivoted to launch immediate and decisive pandemic relief action on behalf of the warfighter and the Nation.
The JPM CBRN Medical, a component of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, is the Department of Defense’s premier program management office for the development and acquisition of safe, effective, and innovative medical solutions to combat chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats to service members. Its vision is to provide a full-layered medical countermeasure capability to enable a protected and unencumbered Joint Force to fight and win in any global CBRN battlespace.
The JPM CBRN Medical team spearheaded urgent efforts to protect and defend against the spread of COVID-19 through the organization’s ability to recognize CBRN threats and to adapt quickly to mitigate those threats.
As developing needs were identified during the escalating COVID crisis, the former White House Coronavirus Task Force and current COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, DOD, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and JPM CBRN Medical recognized a critical need for greater testing efforts. A shift from laboratory testing to point-of-care and at-home testing became a priority, as making access to testing easier would reduce the potential for exposure of individuals receiving testing from a clinic, doctor’s office, or laboratory.
In response to this emerging U.S. government priority, Ellume, an Australian-based biotech and diagnostic solutions company that manufactures at-home COVID-19 tests, competed for funds for this initiative.
In August 2020, Ellume received a $30 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative to support a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization , scale production, and manufacture tests after previously receiving $900K from RADx in May 2020 for test development and data collection to support their application. By December 2020, Ellume was the manufacturer of the first over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 selftest to receive EUA from the FDA. During this period, the DOD and HHS, including RADx, maintained constant coordination and alignment of efforts through intra-government relationships and synchronization.
The HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health determined there was a need to promote the progression of the nation’s COVID-19 priorities with athome testing, which led to engaging industry to find solutions. At the request of the OASH, the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell Defense Assisted Acquisition Screening & Diagnostics team and Army Contracting Command-Joint COVID-19 Response Division managed the effort in support of the White House initiative to invest in, expand domestic production of, and to procure Ellume’s at-home COVID-19 tests.
The JPM CBRN Medical recognized the urgency in accelerated production and delivery of the kits, and utilized DOD’s acquisition process to enter into an agreement with Ellume for the development of rapid, large scale domestic manufacturing capabilities of its at-home COVID-19 tests. White House Senior Advisor for the Pandemic Response, Andy Slavett, announced the $230 million agreement during the third White House COVID-19 Response briefing on February 1, 2021.
An Unexpected Silver Lining
In the wake of the pandemic, many local economies were crippled by shuttering businesses and record high unemployment. One community, however, is celebrating the announcement of a new manufacturing facility and the promise of employment opportunities for local workers.
Ellume announced in early May that it is establishing its U.S. manufacturing facility in Frederick County, Maryland; a move that Ellume projects will provide approximately 1,500 new jobs by 2022. The JPM CBRN Medical was not involved with Ellume’s decision to establish its flagship facility in Frederick, Maryland, but was thrilled that the initiative would lead to a manufacturing base just a few miles down the road. If there’s a proverbial silver lining to a global pandemic, it’s the happy concurrence of stopping the spread of COVID-19 while boosting job creation and the Nation’s economy. Col. Ryan Eckmeier, Joint Project Manager for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Medical, said: “We are proud to support the warfighter and the Nation through our efforts to combat this pandemic. The fact that an industry partner decided independently to open a manufacturing facility in the community where we serve is an unexpected bonus that will have a significant impact on the local economy. Our team does great work and it’s encouraging to see this expanded testing capability become a reality - it is a win we’re happy to be a part of.”
“Our team at Fort Detrick is doing great things for the Nation, and now the expansion of these efforts will happen in our own backyard”, echoes Lt. Col. John Nuckols, a Joint Product Manager for the JPM CBRN Medical as well as Screening and Diagnostics Product Lead for the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s COVID-19 Task Force.
The Path Forward
The JPM CBRN Medical team is dedicated to mission, warfighter, and Nation. Their work has been instrumental in bringing novel testing capability to the U.S., delivering critical at-home technology necessary to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic. In spearheading the mission of supporting the warfighter, the team indirectly boosted the local economy and remain ready for the next threat, whether intentional or naturally-occurring.
“We are committed to protecting our warfighters against all threats”, said Col. Eckmeier. “We cannot succeed without partnering with industry, academia, the interagency, and other DOD partners. No one can do this alone. The combined dedication of the JPM CBRN Medical team and our partners helps to mitigate threats to our warfighters and our national security.”
If the pandemic has a silver lining, surely it is the result of Army ingenuity, industry innovation, and the hardworking people in a local community coming together for a stronger, healthier, more prosperous Nation.