State funds pilot of new COVID screening test

  • $500,000 innovation funding to pilot new COVID screening technology
  • Potential to provide rapid, large-scale testing
  • Local start-up company behind new technology, working in partnership with leading WA research institutions 
  • A local start-up company’s bid to develop a platform that supports rapid, low-cost and large-scale COVID-19 screening has been given a boost thanks to newly announced State Government funding.

    The platform combines a range of existing technologies with locally developed custom hardware and system control software to deliver enhanced COVID-19 testing throughput.

    Unlike the PCR-based regime that is currently used around Australia to screen for active COVID cases, the new platform relies on advanced genome-based technology known as LAMP.

    Western Australian start-up Avicena Systems is behind the venture which uses saliva samples and promises to deliver a more efficient alternative to the current COVID screening system. 

    The platform is designed to provide portable, scalable screening, with rapid throughput that would enable the processing of up to 5,000 samples per hour.

    Its ability to be deployed to remote locations, provide in situ results within the hour and authenticate the identity of screened individuals and track their results are among other advantages.

    With lower labour and consumable requirements, it is expected Avicena Systems’ platform would be significantly cheaper and more user friendly than the system currently used.

    The system could be used to provide ‘population-scale’ background screening in COVID-19 outbreak zones and rapid, high-throughput testing for major sporting events and high traffic zones such as airport terminals.

    Avicena Systems will receive innovation funding of $500,000 to pilot the new technology which will operate alongside existing systems, enabling effective comparison between these.

    Avicena Systems is undertaking the assessment as part of a consortium involving Genomics WA (a partnership between the Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia and Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research) and the Perron Institute.

    As stated by Health Minister Roger Cook:

    “Western Australia’s ability to screen large groups of people quickly and accurately will be key to our success at managing future COVID-19 outbreaks.

    “Should this new system live up to its promise we will be in a better position to mobilise screening for – and at – large-scale events such as concerts and sporting fixtures, whilst also monitoring the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable populations such as remote Aboriginal communities and crews of ships.

    “The testing would be particularly valuable for screening people without symptoms.

    “The State Government’s support of this project is in line with its commitment to back local innovation that has the potential to improve the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the WA community.”

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