New portable COVID-19 test in development

Image of child in a mask

Results of a Newton Fund project have led to a new portable COVID-19 test kit that will make testing for COVID-19 more accessible in developing countries. The technology originates from a UK-Philippines research collaboration to create a diagnostic software for farms to detect infected poultry.

The project’s principal investigator, Professor Balachandran of Brunel University London, working with colleagues at Lancaster University and the University of Surrey realised that the ability to test for viral and bacterial pathogens in poultry could be recalibrated to test for COVID-19 in humans in the same way. They have now joined forces with industry partners to manufacture a rapid diagnostic test kit.

The test can be used in areas with large concentrations of people, such as care homes, sizeable employers and airports, to quickly determine if an individual has the virus. It works by linking a test kit to a smartphone app; test swabs go into the kit, which then runs a test for COVID-19; it feeds the information into the smartphone app and give a result in about 30 minutes. The kit can run up to six different swab tests at the same time.

The inexpensive, portable testing kit will make testing for COVID-19 more accessible in developing countries, in which remote communities may not have easy immediate access to high quality medical facilities.

The device has been passed onto a company called Vidiia Ltd for commercialisation and further tests with clinical samples are underway, which will also allow the device to be sold in Europe. If testing continues to run positively and relevant permissions are granted, the device will be ready to launch at the Scottish Open this October.

The original UK-Philippines project was shortlisted for the Newton Prize 2019. The team was led by Professor Wamadeva Balachandran of Brunel University London and Dr Dennis Umali of the University of Philippines Los Banos and they were funded by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture – Biotechnology Programme, Philippines.

They developed a simple farm-side molecular diagnostic platform and complementary surveillance software that could be used to rapidly and accurately detect bacterial and viral infections within flocks. The technology aims to support the poultry sector and consumer health by limiting the spread of disease to adjacent farms and into the human food chain.