Several Australian companies are manufacturing rapid antigen tests locally with government support but sending the kits offshore due to approval delays, with the federal Labor slamming the government for leaving them “in limbo”.
From Monday, concession card holders can access 10 free RATs from pharmacies around the country, if there is stock.
But the Pharmacy Guild has said that up to 90 per cent of chemists will not have enough stock to provide the free tests, saying that out of 5,500 pharmacies not associated with Chemist Warehouse, only 700 have RATs in stock as of Monday.
Demand for RATs is only set to increase, with NSW and Victoria recently announcing that students will be required to have two rapid COVID-19 tests per week for the first month of the school term.
The shortage of these tests is in spite of the fact that there are at least three Australian companies capable of manufacturing RATs locally, some of which are doing so but then exporting them to the US and Europe.
This is due in part to these companies still waiting for approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to use the RATs in Australia, with two Australian companies now having waited more than four months.
Queensland-based AnteoTech and Melbourne-based Lumos Diagnostics both submitted TGA applications in September last year for their rapid antigen tests, but are still waiting for confirmation.
Lumos Diagnostics is now manufacturing its tests in the US and exporting them to America, Europe and Canada.
Queensland firm Ellume is also sending large quantities of locally-made RATs to the US, and is understood to be imminently applying to the TGA to use these in Australia.
Shadow Industry minister Ed Husic has questioned why the federal government did not do more to prepare the sector to make RATs locally.
“It’s easier to get an Australian RAT in the United States and parts of Europe than it is in the very country they’re made,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.
“The Morrison-Joyce government has left Australian manufacturers in limbo – it’s clear that they don’t have the faith to back local know-how. Mr Morrison’s failure to listen and act on industry warnings last year about the need for more RATs means everyday Aussies are now paying the price.”
Several of the Australian RAT manufacturers have also received state and federal government funding.
AnteoTech received $1.4 million in funding from the Queensland government’s Essential Goods and Supply Chain Program. The company also recently announced a $1.96 million research and development tax incentive refund from the federal scheme.
AnteoTech applied to the TGA in September for its EuGeni reader and rapid COVID test. In December the TGA requested extra information from the company on how its tests are able to detect new variants of the virus.
Lumos Diagnostics is offering the CoviDx rapid test, which has already been approved by Canada in November.
The company approached the federal government back in 2020 to push for the local manufacturing of RATs, but has since established manufacturing capability in Florida and California aas it waits for approval. Lumos Diagnostics’ tests are being provided to the US, Europe and Canada.
Queensland-based Ellume is currently manufacturing more than 100,000 RATs every day in Brisbane, which are being exported to the US.
The company received a portion of a $50 million grant from the Queensland government last year to expand its manufacturing facility in Brisbane.
Earlier this month the federal Department of Health signed contracts worth more than $60 million for the “urgent” supply of rapid antigen tests.
The contracts are with Australian-based companies which have been approved by the TGA to sponsor overseas manufactured RATs, all of which are being made in China.
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