Rapid COVID-19 test restricted by Health Canada will be fixed by summer, company’s CEO says

A Canadian-made COVID-19 testing device that Health Canada restricted to research use only after it experienced problems will be fixed and in service by the summer, says the company’s CEO.

The portable test, developed by Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, was described as a game-changer by health officials because it reportedly could deliver on-location results in under 60 minutes. The company said upgrades to the test would further cut the delivery time for results down to 30 minutes.

Spartan Bioscience said it had shipped out 5,500 of the tests — most of them to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg — for further testing when Health Canada ordered their use restricted.

The company’s founder and CEO told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics that the problem with the test was not with the digital testing device itself but with the swabs used to collect biological samples.

“In the big grand scheme of things, a swab issue is a relatively minor issue to fix. So we have full confidence that we’re going to fix this relatively quickly,” Paul Lem told host Vassy Kapelos.

“That’s why, in parallel, we continue to manufacture or ramp up our manufacturing supply chain … by the summertime, we can ship out hundreds of thousands of tests per week.”

The federal government had ordered 40,000 Spartan tests a month in an effort to test as many as 60,000 Canadians daily for the virus.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said that the problem with the test should not delay the rollout of the devices. She also said that none of the testing done with the Spartan device will affect the diagnoses of any patients.

Lem said the swab that goes with the Spartan test was designed to be a cheek swab that collects skin cells from the inside of someone’s mouth. Swabs required to test for COVID-19 must be able to collect biological samples from inside the nose — something the Spartan swab was not doing consistently.

“One of the great things is we actually manufacture our own proprietary swab, so we control all aspects of making it,” said Lem. “We can do it, and we can do it relatively quickly.”

Once the new swab has been made and tested by Spartan Bioscience, it will be sent back out to partners across the country — including the National Microbiology Lab — for validation before the device is approved by Health Canada for testing.

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