AHS partners with biotechnology company to create rapid testing for COVID-19

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the globe, Alberta Health Services has partnered with a biotechnology company to create a rapid testing device for Albertans.

The $9.5-million dollar partnership with Spartan Bioscience Inc., will help AHS conduct more efficient tests in remote and rural communities.

The biotechnology company is in the late stages of creating a handheld device that can confirm test results for the virus in less than one hour. Officials said these devices will help eliminate the need for lab samples to be sent off and analyzed — creating a more efficient timeline to combat the spread of the virus.

“COVID-19 places significantly increased demand on our lab capacity,” Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS, said in a statement on Monday.

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“This new technology will supplement our current testing efforts and give AHS the ability to provide timely testing and results to more Albertans in more communities.

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“This will help guide appropriate care and isolation, speed up our contact tracing, and reduce the risk of further spread.”

Click to play video: 'Waiting for COVID-19 test results'
Waiting for COVID-19 test results

The new partnership will see AHS receive handheld devices, along with 100,000 testing kits to be distributed to facilities outside of Calgary and Edmonton.

“We have recognized a gap in our testing and I am pleased AHS is working swiftly with industry to find ways to ensure rapid testing for the virus is accessible for people in rural and remote communities,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.

“This investment will ensure we can maintain our rapid pace in testing and alleviate pressures on our front-line workers with quick result confirmations.”

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The technology will be used alongside current testing methods in areas where laboratory access is limited or non-existent.

Dr. Paul Lem, CEO of Spartan Bioscience Inc., said this partnership will help slow the spread of the virus in the province.

“We think portable, rapid COVID-19 molecular testing will be important to help stop the pandemic,” Lem said.

“It is gratifying to see a made-in-Canada solution helping Canadians, and is critical to Canada’s response.”

The first shipment of devices is expected to arrive in April. AHS said it will deploy the devices once Health Canada has approved the use of rapid kit tests, which is expected within the next few weeks.

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