TORONTO — An Ontario company says it is developing a new saliva-based test for COVID-19 that will fit in the palm of the hand and be able to detect if someone is infected with the virus in a matter of 20 minutes.
The test, which is currently in its research phase, is the brainchild of Deep Biologics, a Guelph, Ont.-based company. The federal government recently award the company $300,000 through the National Resource Council of Canada (NRC) in hopes of turning the idea into a reality.
Dea Shahinas, CEO of Deep Biologics, said that thanks to the funding, her company will be ready to begin clinical sample testing within the next three months.
“The methods that we are developing are novel and they would be based on saliva. Saliva testing is more practical in rural areas and for point-of-care devices, which is the aim of this project,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Currently, being tested for COVID-19 in Canada means having a long swab inserted into the back of a patient’s throat or through their nose. Samples are then brought to a lab for testing, and results typically take a few days.
This new diagnostic test, once developed, would be completely self-contained, which means it would not need to be brought to a lab. Instead, anyone being tested could find out their status on the spot — a convenience factor that could have practical applications for airports, schools and workplaces.
“The detector is the size of somebody’s hand,” Shahinas explained. “It’s independent, autonomous, and the disposable chips are inserted and it reports the results.”
In collaboration with a team at Queen’s University, Deep Biologics is looking to build on earlier research that has found that the pathogen in COVID-19 can be detected from saliva samples.
The NRC is investing nearly $1.2 million into four Canadian companies, including Deep Biologics, that are developing similar tests. All of the companies are working on different tests that would use saliva samples and could determine results in 20 minutes or less.
If successful, each of those companies could receive up to $2 million to develop prototypes of their possible solutions.
“Canada needs different types of tests to meet the volume and capacity requirements to diagnose infected individuals and understand the spread of COVID-19,” the NRC said in a statement.
How quickly the Deep Biologics team creates the diagnostic test and make it readily available to the public depends on several factors, including manufacturing capabilities and approvals from Health Canada. But Shahinas said she expects one year would be sufficient.
“That should be possible given the current fast-tracking by the different organizations, but at this point we don’t know.”
Health Canada recently approved an Italian-made antibody test that can determine if someone has the virus-fighting proteins in their blood that are created after an individual is exposed to COVID-19. Doctors agree that antibodies provide some degree of immunity to the virus, but it’s unclear how long that protection lasts.
On Monday, a group of Toronto researchers announced that they are testing the blood of more than 10,000 Canadians for antibodies to learn more about immunity and see how many asymptomatic people may have contracted the virus.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones