COVID-19 test inventor’s eureka moment
Monday, 01 June 2020
The inventor of a ground-breaking COVID-19 test described his ‘eureka moment’ when he realised he could adapt existing tech to create a rapid virus test.
Professor Chris Toumazou is the co-founder of DnaNudge, which produces wearables and App technology that use your DNA plus your lifestyle to guide you towards healthier food choices, thanks to a patented analyser called a NudgeBox.
In March 2020 he and his fellow director Dr. Mohammadreza Sohbati realised that this innovation could be adapted to screen for COVID-19 without the need to send samples to a lab, producing highly accurate results in just over an hour – reducing the typical 1-2 day wait for lab-based results. He believes the intellectual property (IP) protection he had in place was instrumental in making it easy to alter his product to meet the current crisis, and he is now in talks with the Department of Health and Social Care regarding widespread UK roll-out of the test following approval for clinical use by the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority).
He said: “We had considered that at some point in its lifetime the technology could prove useful as a virus tester, so in March of this year when COVID-19 became an issue we put this to the test.
“We found the tech lent itself exceptionally well to the task. You take a nasal swab and put it into a disposable cartridge which goes straight into a portable shoebox-sized analyser – as simple as putting a coffee pod in a machine. It is programmed to provide a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to detect COVID-19.
“Its application for point-of-care testing is key and what distinguishes us over other lab-based tests. Without the need for sending to a lab there is less opportunity for the virus to be exposed and precious time can be saved when quick decisions need to be made for patients or indeed frontline staff who need a quick result.”
When Chris and his team at DnaNudge realised the potential of the adapted technology, he consulted his patent attorneys at Marks & Clerk to assess the relevance of their IP to virus detection, aware that strong IP would be crucial in attracting investors and ultimately upscaling production to meet the demand for an accurate, lab-free rapid testing solution.
He needed to gain clinical validation for the test and began discussions with the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority) as well as clinical researchers at Imperial College London where he is Regius Professor of Engineering.
An initial trial on NHS staff and COVID-19 patients in an A&E setting proved successful in clinically validating the tests, and large-scale clinical testing is now underway, primarily at a number of hospitals across London.
Chris said: “When we carried our very earliest tests with a small sample, we found that 30 per cent of outpatients who were visiting hospital for reasons other than COVID-19 actually tested positive. To us this really demonstrated the value of having this type of on-site, rapid test as it meant they could be moved to the appropriate wards very quickly.
“There are a variety of situations where this type of point of care diagnostic could be so much more beneficial than waiting 48 hours for a lab-based test, from A&E to maternity wards, elective surgeries, care homes and much more.”
Oxford-based patent attorney Robert Lind from Marks & Clerk has advised a number of exciting start-ups in the areas of bioelectronics and DNA analysis. He has provided IP advice to Chris Toumazou for almost 20 years and described this latest innovation as ground-breaking.
He said: “Our firm’s history with Chris goes back a long time with various projects in the areas of health tech and med tech, with one of the most recent being DnaNudge.
“As these latest developments illustrate, the realisation that this swab-to-cartridge analysis – originally created with a health and lifestyle application for consumers – could be used for virus testing is a real game-changer.
“We reviewed the existing patent rights to ensure that they are robust and relevant to this new application. Genetics can be a crowded space and strong IP has been absolutely crucial in attracting investors and allowing the project to gather pace quickly at this important time.
“We are very excited by the potential of this innovation which could truly be life-changing for many.”