This box could return COVID-19 test results in 30 minutes — and it's made by Ottawa company Spartan Bioscience

This box could return COVID-19 test results in 30 minutes — and it's made by Ottawa company Spartan Bioscience

An Ottawa-based company that produces the world’s smallest DNA test is working on a portable test for COVID-19 which it says could be available within a few weeks.  

Spartan Bioscience has primarily developed tests for a range of things from human genetics to contaminated water. Some of its customers include the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the New York State Department of Health and the Mayo Clinic.  

But now, everyone at the 70-person company is focusing on developing a rapid test for the novel coronavirus which causes the deadly COVID-19 disease.

“For 14 years we’ve been focused on developing this portable DNA analyzer and it turns out it is perfectly suited for something like the COVID-19 outbreak,” CEO Paul Lem told Yahoo Canada News. “Right now with testing, the central labs are being overwhelmed because people have to collect a swab, ship it off to a lab, then wait days to get the results back.”

In contrast, the company’s analyzer is about the size of a coffee cup. Once a swab has been collected, it’s put in a test cartridge and then a box, and results are available within 30 minutes. 

Lem says the CDC has published the recipe for a COVID-19 test on portable analyzers, so now the company is porting over the CDC test onto their device. They’re hoping to expedite approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada so that the product can be launched commercially in the next few weeks. 

Lem explains that DNA testing works like a blood glucose metre. The device has a test strip, which tests for whatever specific thing you’re looking for. Once a sample is taken from the mouth or back of the nose, it’s placed in the single-use cartridge, which is then inserted into a box. Thirty minutes later, it displays results.

The company is in need of financing and purchase orders, and is working with the government to get that capital in place. They’re also looking to work with private investors to fund the company to scale. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the government is working with Spartan Bioscience and two other companies to ramp up supplies for essential medical services, including tests for COVID-19.

“We anticipate (the tests) will be available through the government, they’ll give us purchase orders and then help us disseminate our tests across the country,” Lem said. “We want to do our best in the fight against COVID-19.”