Nfld. & Labrador

Can COVID-19 testing swabs be improved? This biomedical tech company says yes

A company launched through a business incubator at Memorial University has gained federal approval for its new product: a swab that its creators say has a superior design, at least as far as the patient's comfort is concerned

New swab from Granville Biomedical promises testing efficacy, improved comfort

Christine Goudie is the co-founder and CEO of Granville Biomedical. (CBC)

More than 100,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador have already experienced the unique discomfort of a nasal swab as part of the COVID-19 testing procedure.

While the innocuous-looking swab has become a mainstay of the pandemic, one St. John's-based company is looking to improve on it.

Christine Goudie, co-founder and chief executive officer of Granville Biomedical, said the swabs people are used to seeing in health care, the flocked-tip swab, may look comfortable with a soft tip, but the current design leaves a lot to be desired.

"They're deceivingly comfortable looking, but the fact remains that when you touch the tip of some of those swabs, there's a sharp point within that flocked tip," she told CBC News.

Granville Biomedical was initially launched through the Genesis Centre at Memorial University, which has been an incubator for numerous startups, including Verafin. Granville Biomedical's initial goal was to design education for women's health, focusing on a range of anatomical models and training tools.

Now, Health Canada has approved their new "Granville swab," which its creators say is more comfortable than the current swabs being used in COVID-19 tests across the country.

Goudie said their primary goal was to create a swab that was effective, and then to design one that was more comfortable for those on the receiving end of it.

"Of course, it's never going to be perfectly comfortable," said Goudie.

According to Goudie, their Granville swab is made from just one material: a biocompatible medical-grade resin, with a rounded tip. The result, she said, is a little less friction as the swab enters the nasal canal.

The Granville swab received Health Canada's approval in February. (Granville Biomedical)

"It's not a comfortable procedure, but if we can just make it a fraction more comfortable, that was what we had in mind."

For the health authorities that are already buying large quantities of swabs, Goudie said the cost difference between the Granville swab and the current swabs on the market will not only make theirs an attractive option long-term, but also reflects the company's core values.

"We noticed that there was a huge surge in pricing as COVID started to emerge, and then as it carried on," Goudie said. "So what we want to do right now is continue the pre-COVID pricing of swabs."

WATCH | Peter Cowan learns about the design of the new swab developed by Granville Biomedical:

Making COVID-19 swabs more comfortable

CBC News Newfoundland

5 months ago
Peter Cowan interviews Christine Goudie, co-founder and chief executive officer of Granville Biomedical. 4:27

Goudie said the price of their swabs will fall within the mid-range of what hospitals were paying before the onset of the pandemic.

"We feel like we can still enter the market at a competitive price point, staying true to who we are, and competitive in terms of pricing and positioning."

Swabs still needed, despite vaccine on the horizon

While Granville Biomedical's headquarters remain in St. John's, the design and manufacturing of their products happens off Newfoundland.

Goudie said that was a priority to ensure that the company could maintain supply chains across the country during and after the pandemic.

Drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 have become more common in the St. John's area since an outbreak of the B117 coronavirus variant, and the adoption of asymptomatic testing. (CBC)

Despite the fact the swabs aren't made in the province, Goudie said she and her team certainly hope they will be used here.

"We're having conversations right now with some provincial representatives and federal representatives," she said. "We really want to see our swab integrated into the Canadian system and various health care authorities."

With a push for made-in-Canada medical equipment, Goudie said they're already seeing a lot of interest in their product.

"We have a lot of interest, a lot of inquiries, and a lot of pre-orders," she said. "Right now we're ramping up production, and we should be ready to start distributing within the next couple of weeks."

While public health officials in the province maintain that a vaccine rollout is imminent, with hopes of a return to normal as early as this summer, Goudie said the need for swabs will continue as testing for new variants remains a necessity.

"As the new variants emerge, and we're seeing them coming from the U.K., South Africa, I think this time we want to be ahead of it," Goudie said.

"And I think swabbing is going to keep increasing because of that."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Conor McCann is a freelance writer and journalist based in St. John's.

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