Saskatoon

Sask. Heath Authority's $2.2M order of rapid COVID-19 testing units hits a snag

The health authority says the delay "has not hindered our provincial laboratory medicine testing targets or approaches."

Delay due to recall has not hindered provincial testing efforts, health authority says

Spartan Bioscience's portable Cube testing unit has been described as a game-changer by health officials because it reportedly could deliver on-location results in under 60 minutes. (Supplied by Spartan Bioscience)

The Saskatchewan government is waiting on an approval from Health Canada before it can receive and start using 50 rapid COVID-19 testing units initially capable of testing a total of 25,000 people for traces of the novel coronavirus.

According to the provincial Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) ordered the so-called Cube tests from Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience. 

The contract is worth $2.2 million, including one-time equipment costs and volume-based test costs, and is for a total of 25,000 tests, although "the Saskatchewan Health Authority could purchase beyond this amount, if required, in the future and utilize the same cube unit," an SHA spokesperson said Thursday.

Spartan Bioscence is one of several companies that has recently been lobbying the province on COVID-19 matters. Spartan's mission, as described on the Saskatchewan lobbyist registry, is "securing government purchases of Spartan Bioscience's testing kits." 

The portable Cube testing unit has been described as a potential game-changer by health officials, with the company claiming it could deliver on-location results in less than 60 minutes. The company has said upgrades to the swabbing test would further cut the delivery time for results down to 30 minutes.

'Purchase is contingent on Health Canada'

The Saskatchewan government's purchase of the testing kits has hit a snag, however. Health Canada recently restricted the device to research use only after it experienced problems.

Spartan's CEO previously told CBC News the test it will be fixed and in service by the summer.

The federal department "indicated no concerns regarding the accuracy and analytical performance of Spartan's test reagents and portable DNA analyzer device," Spartan wrote on its website.

The spokesperson for Saskatchewan Health Authority said its contract with Spartan ensures "the purchase is contingent on Health Canada approval of the product.

"The delay of delivery due to recall has not hindered our provincial laboratory medicine testing targets or approaches," the SHA spokespeson said. "This contract will enable an additional testing platform to be used to help with increased testing within the SHA, when needed."

Spartan declined to comment on Saskatchewan's order "due to commercial sensitivity."

Premier Scott Moe has previously touted a goal of 1,500 COVID-19 tests performed per day in the province. This was around the time Moe announced the plan to gradually reopen segments of the economy, which he said would go hand in hand with aggressive testing. 

The level of testing never reached that point.

This week, a senior medical health officer said some people in the province may be not be seeking testing because they perceive a stigma around the disease. 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from Peter Zimonjic and Vassy Kapelos

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