Spartan Bioscience fielding flurry of orders for COVID-19 test kit

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Spartan Bioscience founder Paul Lem.

An Ottawa-based biotech firm says orders are pouring in from across the world for its handheld device that’s designed to produce COVID-19 test results in as little as half an hour.

“It’s amazing how fast things are moving,” Paul Lem, the founder and CEO of Spartan Bioscience, told OBJ Tuesday afternoon. 

“There’s only a handful of manufacturers around the world that actually make portable data analyzers and COVID-19 test kits. There’s almost unlimited demand for test kits because everyone wants them.”

Spartan’s test involves inserting a cartridge containing a swab from a patient’s mouth into a machine about the size of a coffee cup that analyzes DNA for the presence of the coronavirus. The handheld device could be deployed anywhere from doctors’ offices, pharmacies and community centres to airports, cruise ships and border crossings.

Earlier this month, Lem said he was hopeful the company could have the machines ready to go to market quickly, and Tuesday he said Spartan has been pouring “millions and millions of dollars” into ramping up its supply chain and manufacturing facility.

“We’re targeting within a few weeks to get Health Canada approval and start shipping,” Lem said.

While fielding requests from around the world, Spartan has already landed some major government customers in Canada.

The company has inked a deal with the federal government to produce the machines, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing Tuesday the agreement has been finalized. Trudeau did not disclose any specifics, and Lem declined to provide further details on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the province of Ontario has agreed to purchase 900,000 individual testing cartridges to use in the devices, pending Health Canada approval. On Monday, the Alberta government announced it would spend $9.5 million to buy 250 testing devices and 100,000 test kits. 

Lem said he ultimately hopes to manufacture “several thousand” machines and millions of testing cartridges over the next year. That will take millions of dollars in additional capital, but he said Tuesday he’s close to raising a “significant amount of funding” from private investors.

Lem said the recent announcements from various government customers in Canada have bolstered the product’s credibility on the global stage. 

“Now, investors are seeing that there’s a really good business opportunity here,” he said.

“We want to prioritize Canada first, so we’re talking with the provinces right now. Every day there’s some other country around the world or some large corporation that approaches us and wants to get access to our supply. But for now, we are holding them off so that we prioritize Canada.”