Production starts for 20s Covid-19 test

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

A Covid-19 test system that delivers a result in seconds rather than hours or days has been developed in UK and is entering production

An initial £2m deal with TT Electronics will see the Virolens system developed jointly with iAbra made at the TT plant in Hartlepool, UK.

Rather than analysing DNA, the Virolens system uses a ‘holographic’ microscope and imaging machine learning algorithms to identify the shape of the virus in saliva. Like PCR systems from DNAnudge and Bosch, it uses a cartridge system, but delivers a result in 20s rather than 45 minutes. 

Current medical imaging systems have a resolution down to 120nm, the size of a Covid-19 virus. A 4K resolution imaging system in Virolens is used to identify individual Covid-19 viruses in a sample using an AI inference model trained with virus samples from the University of Bristol. The inference engine and image processing algorithms run on an Intel processor.

“This is a significant step forward in the battle against COVID-19, much of which has revolved around our inability to keep society moving with the constant background threat of infection,” said Greg Compton, CEO of iAbra, a neural networking image analysis startup founded in Bedfordshire, UK, in 2010. “Our system allows simple, high speed, reliable and low-cost testing in dynamic environments. In short, with the Virolens system, we can get the world moving again.”

Internal testing of the system has shown 99.8% sensitivity and 96.7% specificity. It has also been trialled at London Heathrow Airport, but the system would need further trials to demonstrate its accuracy and effectiveness.

As the exclusive manufacturing partner, TT Electronics has custom parts in the design, and expects that the deal could be worth up to £280m. “Providing critical products and services to support life-saving and other essential technology, including medical applications, lies at the heart of what TT does,” said Richard Tyson, CEO of TT Electronics. “Virolens has the potential to be a major step forward in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, by allowing safer access to places of work, transport and events.  TT’s leading-edge products and flexible manufacturing capabilities provide significant support to critical aspects of the Virolens device. This programme also has the potential to deliver a step change in TT’s organic growth and to accelerate the achievement of our target operating margins. Assuming the launch is successful,  there are significant opportunities around the world for further orders.”

TT has received initial orders for devices and testing cartridges which will be delivered to potential launch customers  in September and October 2020. It will invest up to £5m to support this phase of the programme and the launch of Virolens globally, and additional device production and cartridge assembly may also take place at other TT locations, as required.

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