Testing for the coronavirus could be done in an hour without lab-trained technicians using a device the size of a Keurig coffee machine that a Boston-area biotech company is developing.
“Right now when someone gets sick they have to wait a long time to find out the results and this is causing a challenge for people to try to curb the spread of this disease,” said Dr.Jack Regan, CEO of Lexa Gene, based in Beverly.
“If you can speed up the time for results, the better chance of identifying sick people quickly before they have a chance to infect others,” said Regan.
LexaGene’s LX Analyzer works by amplifying the genetic material in a throat or nasal sample to identify it, rather than waiting for a culture which can take several days.
It can look for 27 different pathogens to find out why someone is feeling sick and identify any antibiotic resistance that the bacteria or virus may have, completely automatically.
It only takes about 15 minutes to get trained on how to use the analyzer, said Regan.
After a throat or nasal swab is collected from a patient and placed into a vial with culture liquid, it is swirled around, poured into a cartridge and placed in the device.
Results are emailed to a healthcare provider in a PDF format an hour later.
“You see these lines of people in their car waiting to get tested and they want to know ASAP what’s going on,” said Regan.
The company is currently pursuing emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the approval process and help address a lack of test kits.
LexaGene has performed in-house testing on its device using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus test and is also developing its own tests for the pathogen that causes COVID-19.
Regan plans to start manufacturing devices in LexaGene’s facilities with the intention to begin selling in August. The commercial system will continue to evolve with next-generation devices planned to expand current functionality.
Regan said that by August when the device is ready, coronavirus cases should have dropped drastically thanks in part to social distancing measures and warmer weather.
But, when the weather gets cooler and kids go back to school in September, there is likely to be a resurgence of cases and we may still be left without a vaccine or antiviral medicine, said Regan.
“We’re going to be in a very, very sticky situation,” said Regan.
There’s also a chance the coronavirus can mutate quickly like the flu, rendering tests inaccurate.
Regan said the LexaGene analyzer can tackle that issue due to its open access status, “This allows for our technology to be very rapidly configured with a new test.”
Adequate testing has been one of the biggest hurdles in tackling the coronavirus outbreak, with Dr.Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health calling it “a failing” last week.
A total of 20,907 specimens have been tested at CDC labs and local public health labs since the outbreak started.