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20-second COVID-19 test could get the world moving again

18 September 2020

The new Virolens system, which provides test results for COVID-19 in 20 seconds, has officially been launched.

The speed of tests conducted using the screening device, combined with its portability, can provide a major boost to transport hubs, offices and sporting and cultural events venues reopening after lockdown.

Virolens has been developed by British start up iAbra, with design and exclusive manufacturing expertise from TT Electronics and technology powered by Intel. It has already been successfully trialled at London Heathrow Airport over the past three weeks and can now be rolled out to any dynamic environment where people need to be in close proximity to one another.

The Virolens system is a COVID-19 screening device based on microscopic holographic imaging and artificial intelligence (AI) software technology. It uses a digital camera attached to a microscope to analyse saliva samples, with the data run through a computer which is trained to identify the virus from other cells, delivering an end result in just 20 seconds. 

The Virolens system was trained to recognise the COVID-19 virus particles in saliva using a range of samples of COVID-19 virus provided by virologists working on the virus at the University of Bristol.  The Virolens system has a 99.8% sensitivity and 96.7% specificity, based on the results of an internal in-vitro validation study, demonstrating an exciting proof of concept.

Current gold standard WHO PCR COVID tests are conducted in offsite laboratories by biologists using traditional ‘wet testing’ techniques, involving intrusive swabs and can take several hours to produce a result. The Virolens system is able to count individual active virus cells in any sample.

Following the first round of field testing carried out by iAbra in partnership with London Heathrow Airport, initial trial orders have now been secured with launch customers around the world, including London Heathrow Airport and Leidos in the United States. Virolens is about to embark on clinical trials which would be necessary for it to be certified for medical use. 

Virolens does not need to be administered by healthcare professionals and is repeatable, with each screening device capable of carrying out hundreds of tests per day at a cost of a paperback book for each test. This means it can simply and cost-effectively be deployed in busy environments such as workplaces, stations, airports and events spaces. 

Greg Compton, CEO of iAbra, said: “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. 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.” 

Richard Tyson, CEO of TT Electronics, said: “Providing critical products and services to support life-saving and other essential technology, including medical applications, lies at the heart of what TT does. Today’s exciting announcement is testament to our position in the innovative and world-leading UK technology and manufacturing sectors. We’re delighted that iAbra has recognised our design engineering expertise and specialist products in choosing to partner with us to take the game-changing Virolens COVID-19 screening device into manufacture.” 

John Holland Kaye, CEO at Heathrow Airport said: “Testing for COVID-19 is the lifeline that the UK economy needs to get back on its feet.  Currently the bottleneck is the availability of the government’s preferred PCR testing labs – Rapid Point of Care tests solve that problem. I have experienced iAbra’s test myself, alongside the PCR test – it is quicker and cheaper, and potentially more accurate. We urge the government to fast track this technology to protect the economy and help save millions of jobs in this country.” 

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