Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's startup looking to 3D-print COVID-19 test swabs

For the next year, a local company has been given permission to print a nasopharyngeal swab pattern developed and approved for use in the United States.

Granville Biomedical pivoting focus and attempting to fill the gap

Christine Goudie of St. John's-based startup Granville Biomedical hopes to get Health Canada approval to sell 3D-printed nasal swabs in Canada. (Christine Goudie/Twitter)

A St. John's-based startup is seeking Health Canada's approval to begin supplying health-care facilities with 3D-printed nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing.

Granville Biomedical, which creates anatomical simulation models for women's health training and education, has begun printing and stockpiling nasopharyngeal swabs in anticipation of being able to provide a printed option to facilities facing shortages.

Personal protective equipment and testing supply shortages have plagued the coronavirus treatment effort at different times in different countries. 3D printed solutions have emerged to fill some of the gaps.

Granville Biomedical CEO and co-founder Christine Goudie said, for the next year, her company has been given permission to print a nasopharyngeal swab pattern developed and approved for use in the United States.

Goudie is awaiting Health Canada approval to sell these 3D-printed swabs. (Christine Goudie/Granville Biomedical)

Nasopharyngeal swabs are inserted through the nostril towards the back of the head until met with resistance. The swab is rolled around inside the cavity to collect secretions that are then tested.

Potential use in Newfoundland and Labrador

The company, which is based out of tech incubator Genesis, intends to sell what is produced to regions in need – but Goudie plans to give first access to her home province.

"I think we're always going to keep a little bit of capacity there," she said when asked if a supply would be earmarked for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The demand would be smaller than, say, a bigger centre like Toronto or Vancouver, so I think we should always be able to manage that."

These are packaged swabs created in the United States. Granville Biomedical is looking to print the same design. (Formlabs)

In a statement, Eastern Health said it's aware of Granville Biomedical's proposed nasopharyngeal swab alternative but that the health authority's swab supply is currently sufficient. 

"If this changes at a later time and we require additional swabs beyond those provided through our usual procurement channels, we would evaluate the suitability of this solution for use within Eastern Health."

Production plan

Goudie said Granville Biomedical applied through Health Canada's expidited COVID-19 product approval process two weeks ago but has since made an amendment. It's awaiting response.

She said if given the go-ahead the company can kick into 24/7 production in Calgary, where it's currently printing, and be able to produce 3,000 swabs per week.

Depending on demand, Granville Biomedical will also look at quintupling production by purchasing more of the specialized 3D printers required to create acceptable swabs.

"It's basically what dentists use to make aligners and mouth guards, things like that," Goudie said. "It's like a medical-grade resin that converts into a semi-rigid plastic object, essentially, once it's cured."

Printed swabs are more expensive to produce than their cotton-tipped counterparts. Goudie estimates traditional cotton-tipped nasopharyngeal swabs cost health-care systems between 40 and 50 cents each while the printed versions sell for $2.50 US apiece.

Granville Biomedical hasn't set a price for its swabs yet but intends to keep overhead costs low and the price fair, said Goudie.

Longer term, Goudie wants to push printable swab research further to create a new nasopharyngeal swab that would be Canadian in design and protected within the company. That way, they could stop relying on the pattern patented in the United States and printing could continue past 12 months.

Goudie says cotton swabs are cheaper than the printed versions. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

"The testing is going to be something now that might become a bit more standard in health care, so we just want to be in there and be able to contribute as things start to unfold and this whole new normal sets in with whatever that's going to look like," she said.

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About the Author

Katie Breen

Reporter

Katie Breen works for CBC in St. John's.

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