Backed by Federal Funds, New Virus Tests Are Hitting the Market

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic remained a distant threat to many Americans on Jan. 24 when Douglas C. Bryant, the president and chief executive officer of Quidel Corporation, got a call from an official at the Food and Drug Administration.

If the government helped, the official asked, would Quidel make tests to detect coronavirus infections?

Mr. Bryant decided to go for it, even though some experts at the time were predicting the United States would quickly tame any outbreak.

The gamble has paid off. Quidel, a San Diego-based maker of diagnostic tests, developed a swab-based coronavirus test that produced results from an analyzer in 15 minutes. It sold 1.2 million of them for less than $20 apiece to the federal government for use at nursing homes. A grant from the National Institutes of Health is enabling Quidel to expand its production by about 140 million tests a year, company officials said.

With the pandemic still raging as fall approaches, the government’s efforts to support development and deployment of a variety of testing methods are a rare if belated bright spot amid widespread failures to contain the virus.

In the latest round of government backing, the N.I.H. said on Wednesday that