The Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Agency (BARDA) launched the next phase of an innovation challenge competition on December 6, encouraging American inventors to aid the nation in responding to public health emergencies by designing effective, comfortable face masks for personal use that resolve the common concerns people have about wearing masks. Up to four winning prototypes will split $400,000.
The contest taps into the nation's creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to help curb the spread of respiratory infections such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and protect against other environmental hazards such as pollution or wildfire smoke.
Phase 2 of the Mask Challenge aims to rapidly advance the next generation of respiratory protective devices by encouraging innovators to meet the highly ambitious criteria we have developed and listed in the Moonshot Target Product Profile (TPP). By achieving the goals of the TPP, the American public may have access to protective and novel mask designs that perform far beyond those currently available on the market.
Common reasons for not wearing a mask or not wearing a mask tightly over the nose and mouth include breathability, comfort, uncertainty about effectiveness, and fogged glasses; people in the disability community also have expressed concerns such as the inability to read facial expressions, difficulty speaking through the face covering, and difficulty finding masks to fit facial features.
BARDA is collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), part of the Department of Commerce (DOC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on the personal use mask design innovation challenge. NIOSH administers the nation’s respirator approval program and NIST promotes innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that improve our quality of life.
The first phase of the challenge invited new mask designs that met specific criteria and asked the submitter to describe how that design addressed performance criteria and solved the hurdles to mask wearing. On June 24, 2021, 10 prize-winning concepts were selected to split $100,000, and included face coverings created by a wide range of entrants, including from home innovators, middle school and high school students, academic institutions, and large and small businesses.
Now in Phase 2, contest participants – beyond the Phase 1 winners – are invited to submit white papers and mask prototypes that leverage research, novel materials, and unique designs to meet the ambitious “Moonshot Target Product Profile”. NIOSH and NIST labs will test how well the prototypes meet filtration and breathability criteria, as well as measures of comfort and tolerability. In addition, contestants are encouraged to expand their designs to include unique features such as sensors, transparency, reusability, and improved speech intelligibility. Up to four winning prototypes will split $400,000. Winners also will have access to BARDA’s scientific expertise to complete development of the prototypes, as well as access to start-up resources through the BARDA Accelerator Network.
In order to be eligible to participate, mask designs cannot use prophylactic chemical treatments, such as sprays or drugs that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, nose, or mouth, to achieve their protective effects. Also excluded are contract tracing apps and other behavioral change protocols, self-contained breathing apparatus or supplied air design, accessories or modifications to NIOSH-approved respirators or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved surgical masks, such as additional filters, or modifying the head straps or ear loops. Contestants are highly encouraged to review the exclusion criteria and rules for more information on eligibility.
Winners must be U.S. citizens or legal residents or U.S.-owned businesses operating in the United States. Contest rules, including eligibility, criteria for winning entries, and how to submit a design, are available at https://www.challenge.gov/?challenge=mask-innovation-challenge-phase2 .