UK diagnostics firm announces rapid test for COVID-19


Biotech companies partner to produce test that will deliver results in 30 minutes

A team of UK biotech experts are close to delivering a sophisticated and affordable testing technology that will complement the simple binary COVID-19 tests currently in use.

The technology deploys mass spectrometry to spot proteins that are unique to COVID-19 and is targeting to deliver test results within 30 minutes that can detect the presence or absence of COVID-19; measure viral load; and detect new viral strains as they emerge.

And the developers say the technology could make a huge contribution to the Government’s plans announced last week to increase testing capacity and bolster the UK’s diagnostics industry.

The technology, developed by MAP Sciences and Cantab Health, could deliver up to 1,000 test results per machine over a 24-hour period.

The mass spectrometers have low technical user requirements and require minimal consumables.

The Cambridge and Bedford based team has been working on a proof of concept using a MALDI ToF mass spectrometer to detect a COVID-19 pseudovirus and expect to be at a stage to start clinical trials within two weeks.

Government collaboration and support will be needed to run clinical trials on the test using COVID-19 live virus.

Once developed this technology can provide a powerful and rapid first line in the control of any future new virus epidemics

The Cantab Health team will co-ordinate logistics, technical support and data reporting.

Professor Ray Iles, chief scientific officer at MAP Sciences, said: “I’ve spent the past 10 years developing the use of MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry to detect a range of diseases by identifying their unique protein signature.

“Our technology delivers results within minutes and, with fine tuning, we aim to achieve this on COVID-19, but with far fewer false positives.

Once developed this technology can provide a powerful and rapid first line in the control of any future new virus epidemics.”

About the technology

The MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry is a clinical diagnostic platform utilising a highly-advanced method of protein pattern recognition to diagnose various diseases and health disorders.

It uses dedicated digital data, analysed by AI algorithms and requires only a very small sample - either blood, urine or sputum - to deliver test results within minutes and at an economical cost level.

The analysis is data rich and the sample can be re-interrogated with full scanning of all test panels from a single sample.

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The technology is based on mass spectral profiling of biological fluids in multi-dimensional patterns and delivers:

  • Simultaneous identification of multiple analytes in a single sample run
  • Relative quantification of one analyte against another
  • Easy-to-collect sample e.g. a blood spot card
  • Fast sample processing (‘dilute and shoot’)
  • Relatively low cost of reagents
  • Rapid data generation archived for instant re-interrogation <1 min