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Canadian bioscience firm says it’s approved for production of rapid COVID-19 testing device

TORONTO — A Canadian bioscience firm has received federal approval for production and distribution of a device it claims can produce COVID-19 test results in less than an hour.

Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, which developed the Spartan Cube, says it is capable of testing for COVID-19 and has received Health Canada approval for distribution.

“You take a swab and you actually take the tip of the swab into this cartridge and then you put into this portable DNA analyzer,” Spartan Bioscience CEO Dr. Paul Lem told CTV News. “In less than an hour, you get your COVID-19 test results.”

Alberta is spending $9.5 million to bring 250 Spartan Cubes and 100,000 testing kits to the province, while Ontario has purchased 900,000 testing kits.

“They’ve told us that they’re thinking it’ll be used in smaller towns, smaller hospitals, remote communities,” Lem said.  “So it would probably be health-care professionals, so perhaps doctors, nurses medical technicians who will probably run the stuff.” 

Under current testing models in Canada, swabs must be sent to centres in large cities for testing, which can lead to delays in results and backlogs at laboratories. Lem believes his device will help solve that problem.

“They have to send the results back to whoever ordered the test, so that’s why it can take days or even over a week, to get the test results,” he said. “In contrast, with our portable COVID-19 DNA testing device, you’re getting results right away.”

Spartan Bioscience estimates it can produce 1.5 million of these tests each month.

“So we are massively ramping up our supply chain so that we’ll be able to produce millions of tests every month,” Lem said. “As we’re able to meet Canada’s demand, then we’ll be in a position to help the rest of the world.”

Lem also believes the tests can be used at airports and border crossings if the initial release goes smoothly.

Despite having federal approval, the province of Alberta will still validate the accuracy of the machines before they can be used widely.

“I think that one of the key points to keep in mind is really that once these tests get approval, that doesn’t mean we can just go get them off the shelf and put them in practice, they still have to go through some evaluation at the sites that they’re going to actually be used,” said Dr. Marc Desjardins, the head of microbiology at the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association.

There are several rapid testing devices being developed around the world, including in the U.S., Europe and South Korea.

In South Korea, Kogen Biotech produced a rapid testing device last month that led in the nationwide effort to flatten the curve in their country. With the help of the device more than 300,000 people were able to be tested through drive-in centres.

Lem said Kogen Biotech’s device relies on final results from a lab, however, compared to his product which can produce results on the spot.

Despite the promising claims, some scientists still want more evidence before they can be convinced of these devices.

“It’s quite amazing the number of rapid tests and variations of assays that have been made available, but again, I have to issue some caution that these tests might actually work very, very well, but we have to evaluate them and usually we’re going to…compare them to the assays that we’re currently using,” said Desjardins.

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