BC company receives over $600K to develop one-minute coronavirus antibody test

Jun 1 2020, 12:00 pm

A BC-based company is developing a one-minute COVID-19 antibody test to help broaden the extent of Canada’s testing capabilities.

bioLytical Laboratories has received $633,000 in federal funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to develop, optimize, and produce a one-minute COVID-19 antibody test.

The company said these point-of-care testing kits will look for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus, using bioLytical’s proprietary INSTI platform, an innovative testing technology that detects antibodies within 60 seconds from a single drop of blood.

No need for swabs

The main differences between what the current COVID-19 swab tests do and bioLytical’s technology are the tools used and execution.

“[Swabs] are testing for the presence of the virus itself. Also, swabs are in short supply and they aren’t able to do as many tests,” said Michelle Zaharik, chief scientific officer at bioLytical. “We don’t use anything like swabs and we provide all the materials in one pouch. Everything you need to run the test is in that one pouch and nothing is in short supply for that test.”

Unlike the current COVID-19 swab tests, the Canadian-made INSTI test is also testing for antibodies so that medical professionals will know if a patient has developed an immune response to the virus.

“By testing for antibodies, it helps to provide a true extent of COVID-19 infections in the general population,” Zaharik said. “Those other tests test for the virus itself. Once you’ve cleared the infection, they show up negative, and you have no idea if you were infected or not.”

If someone had already recovered from COVID-19 or were asymptomatic, Zaharik said a person could have cleared the virus and had no real idea that they were ever infected.

“If we bring in antibodies to COVID-19, then we can test you weeks or months later, and we would be able to tell how many people were infected.”

bc covid-19 test

INSTI COVIT-19 Antibody test kit (bioLytical Laboratories)

What testing would look like

Zaharik said testing for COVID-19 antibodies would be less invasive than the current swab test and be similar to the INSTI HIV antibody tests that are used by hospitals, departments of health, physicians, pharmacists, community-based organizations, and other care facilities.

“It’s simple and easy to use, and people in a doctor’s office can use it. Somebody would use a lancet, like what diabetics use to prick their finger to check their blood sugar every day. They’d squeeze that finger to get one, good-flowing drop of blood, and you would put that in one of our solution bottles,” she said.

The solution and blood would be mixed and applied to the membrane unit. Then, the antibodies to HIV, if the patient has been infected, are now able to bind to an HIV protein that bioLytical has put onto that membrane. The antibodies are now stuck on that membrane. The next step is to apply a second solution that has a blue dye in it. The dye is specifically engineered to bind to any antibodies present on that membrane. There is also a third control solution that washes away any background, as there are always antibodies circulating in the blood stream.

“So, if you don’t have any HIV antibodies, you will not get a positive HIV test dot. The membrane will be blank at that one location, but if you do have antibodies to HIV, that blue dot will show up. You’re able to, within one minute, from that one little finger stick, find out if you have antibodies in your bloodstream for HIV. We are using the same methodology and we’re just adapting it [for] COVID-19,” said Zaharik.

Antibody test best suited for long-term testing

As an antibody test, the INSTI test for COVID-19 can become an important part of the testing strategy to combat the virus. Zaharik said going forward the tests can be used to monitor the population.

“You get your test result within one minute and there is no waiting around for a test to come back from the lab. Experts can now make really fast and informed decisions to protect the health and well being of our communities.”

Zaharik said while the process is fairly long, the company is moving as fast as possible.

“Canadians need this test now,” she said. “We really want to be able to get our product out on the market and really help in dealing with this pandemic.”

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