Irish firm developing rapid Covid-19 test
An Irish company is receiving EU funding to help develop a rapid diagnostic test for Covid-19 that can deliver results in less than an hour. The project, called HG nCoV19 test from Dublin-based SME Hibergene Diagnostics, will allow health workers to make a speedy, accurate diagnosis, meaning patients can be isolated and quarantined quickly. It could also identify essential workers without Covid-19 so they can avoid unnecessary quarantine and continue to deliver vital services and supplies.
The test will also allow small and medium sized hospitals to avoid waiting days for results from centralised laboratories.
Hibergene is working together with research teams from Northern Ireland, Italy and China.
Hibergene co-founder, Peter Kidney, says the company needed to work fast to put together a project team, and EU emergency funding enabled them to take the financial risk needed to develop the test. “It’s really essential that you identify somebody who has the disease as quickly as possible,” he said. “You don’t want to be quarantining people who don’t have the disease because they will take up valuable hospital space for people who really need it.”
Hibergene is working with a team from Queens University in Belfast, a hospital in Genoa, Italy, called IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, and Chinese company Medcaptain to validate the test. “Our long term relationship with Medcaptain and the prevalence of Covid-19 cases in China when we started back in February meant that they were a natural partner in the project. Few cases of Covid-19 had been identified in Europe at that point,” Kidney explains.
“Fresh samples are key in ensuring we can challenge the test to perform as it is designed to.”
Deciding to develop the test before Covid-19 struck Europe was a significant financial risk for Hibergene so the company responded to a Horizon 2020 emergency funding call for research projects. The call received 91 expressions of interest, and Hibergene was one of just 18 successful applicants meaning the project could proceed.
“There’s so much uncertainty regarding the disease but having EU funding was a great reassurance for us to take the risk to go forward and develop the test,” Kidney says.
As part of its test development, Hibergene utilises amplification technology to enable its testing instrument to detect the DNA or RNA of a virus or bacteria in samples. “We design chemistry that identifies the unique genetic fingerprint of the disease,” Kidney adds. “It’s not straightforward and it’s complicated but we’ve made rapid progress.” The test is expected to be able to simply and rapidly detect Covid-19 from patients with high viral loads from about two days before the onset of symptoms. It will allow small and medium sized hospitals to avoid waiting days for results from centralised laboratories.