Guelph company develops rapid, portable COVID-19 test kit

A Guelph company has developed a rapid, portable COVID-19 test to be used by groups that need it most, such as underserved Indigenous communities, food processing plants and long-term care homes.

Test kit takes an hour to get results, is as accurate as lab testing, Precision Biomonitoring says

Precision Biomonitoring has used its DNA test to detect viruses in animals and check food for contamination, such as salmonella, but now the company is shifting gears and adapting the test to detect COVID-19. (Submitted by Mario Thomas)

A Guelph company has developed rapid, portable COVID-19 testing to be used by groups that need it most, such as remote Indigenous communities, food processing plants and long-term care homes.

DNA testing isn't new for Precision Biomonitoring. It's been carrying out various molecular tests to detect viruses in farm animals and to monitor food safety since it formed four years ago. But at the end of February, the team decided to shift gears and adapt their technology to make COVID-19 testing kits.

Mario Thomas, chief executive officer and co-founder, calls it a "lab in a briefcase." The kit is compact, battery-operated and only weighs a couple of pounds, he says.

"We have used this on tailgates of pickup trucks ... we've used it on boats. It's very rugged, very robust," said Thomas. "It can give results now ... when central lab testing is not possible."

The company's DNA tests have been as accurate as normal lab testing, according to Thomas. 

'Ready to go'

When used on a person to test for COVID-19, the first step, like lab tests, would be to take a DNA swab.

The next step uses a "go strip," a testing platform that uses five "buffers" to extract genetic material from the swab within three minutes, Thomas says. 

Then the device concentrates the genetic material and puts it in a DNA analyzer. The whole process takes about an hour to get results and the device can analyze nine samples at a time, said Thomas.

Last month, the federal government selected Precision Biomonitoring's testing kit as one of a handful of COVID-19 detection devices to be fast tracked through the Health Canada approval process.

It's still waiting for approval but Thomas expects it to come soon.

"We have kits ready to go now," said Thomas.

Test kits for First Nations

Remote First Nations are among the communities that would benefit most, says Don Richardson, a managing partner with Shared Values Solutions. The company provides consulting services for Indigenous communities and is working to get the testing kits in as many First Nations as possible, once the device gets Health Canada approval.

Richardson says he's already been in contact with several chiefs who want the kit as soon as possible.

"[They say] hurry, get it here quickly," said Richardson. "The current time it takes to get results back in a typical First Nation is a week to 10 days."

Thomas says he's been contacted by several mining companies and meat processing plants which would like to use the tests for regular weekly testing of their employees to ensure a safe working environment. 

It's important "to have more regular screening of people in hot zones, whether it's nursing homes or in industrial settings where it's critical to have ... a virus-free zone," Thomas said.

The testing also includes the ability to immediately upload the results online. Company officials are hoping to adapt its technology to be able to test for other infectious diseases in the future.

"I believe one of the changes to come out of COVID-19 will be the willingness to have more extensive screening to avoid being caught unprepared," Thomas said.


Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?


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