British Columbia

B.C. companies working on COVID-19 saliva test

Researchers in B.C. are working on creating COVID-19 tests that detect the virus through saliva.

Tests could replace uncomfortable nasal swabbing

Saliva testing for COVID-19 could be used in offices or airports to test people as they enter, because results from the test could be available in minutes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Researchers in B.C. are working on creating COVID-19 tests that detect the virus through saliva, as opposed to nasal swabbing, which has been the primary form of testing thus far. 

Thanks to $300,000 in funding from the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program, Metabolic Insights, based in Kelowna, is looking at repurposing existing salivary insulin technology to detect COVID-19. 

"The device uses a pair of antibodies to bind to the target protein, which in the particular case of insulin would be the insulin molecule," CEO David Turner told CBC's Brady Strachan.

"We're simply going to swap out the antibodies used for that with a pair of antibodies which specifically bind to the spiky protein of the COVID-19 virus. We're hoping that it's as simple a swap as that."

If their test works, it could provide test results in four to 10 minutes. Patients could take the test at home, or, as Turner suggested, it could be used by airlines to test travellers before they get on a plane. 

He hopes to have the test ready by the end of the year, which is a quick turnaround for a project like this, but because the technology already exists, it helps reduce research time. 

"We've got our fingers and toes crossed," he said. "We're reasonably optimistic."

COVID-19 tests are currently done through nasal swabbing, which many people find uncomfortable. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

ImmunoPrecise Antibodies, based in Victoria, is working with University of Victoria physical chemist Alexandre Brolo on a similar test; theirs would also detect COVID-19 in saliva, would provide results in minutes and could be read on a cellphone.

A sample of saliva would be placed on a thin strip coated in nanostructures made of gold, which interact with COVID-19 spiky proteins. If the virus is detected, it triggers a colour-change on the strip, which activates a cellphone application.

It's based on technology Brolo created to detect the Zika virus. He also hopes to have the test ready for market by the end of 2020.

The project is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance COVID-19 grant.

With files from Brady Strachan and Rohit Joseph