30 August 2020, Robyn Ironside
This article originally appeared in The Australian, print and online, on 30th August 2020. View the original article here on The Australian website.
A Brisbane laboratory anticipating huge global demand for COVID tests is building a facility capable of producing 15 million tests a month.
Ellume Health has already received a US order for 900,000 of the COVID antibody tests to determine whether people have been exposed to the virus.
The laboratory’s founder and chief executive Sean Parsons said the blood test was a critical step towards returning lives to some sort of normality.
“If someone knows they’ve had coronavirus, it does allow them to get back to work and back to life a little bit quicker in the knowledge that the likelihood of them getting it again is greatly reduced,” Dr Parsons said.
“In countries like America, where they’re really trying to restart the economy, having information to be able to let people get back to life and back to work is going to be very important.”
The blood test can be processed at a rate of 32 an hour in a small or medium-sized pathology lab, with “strong positive” results possible in three minutes.
Dr Parsons said the speed, simplicity and performance of the test differentiated it from other products coming on the market.
“(Partner) Qiagen intends to commercialise this product globally,” he said. “They will use their global footprint to take this product to the world.”
At the same time, Ellume is in the final stages of several other products, including a rapid COVID test suitable for use in pharmacies or even at airports.
Such a product could help reopen national borders by providing certainty to airlines that passengers were COVID-free before travel. Australian Airports Association chief executive James Goodwin said resuming international travel was a top priority for airports, and it would be useful to know what health protocols the government might require travellers to face.
“Airports would urge the government to prioritise developing these protocols so the nation and aviation sector are ready for any reopening,” he said.
Ellume is getting on with an expansion strategy, building the largest diagnostics manufacturing facility in Australia at Richlands, in Brisbane’s southwest.
“We are on track to have first products coming out of that facility in October,” Dr Parsons said.
“Having very little COVID is also a real help now in terms that disruption to the company is limited compared to other places around the world. We are scaling our production here for America and global markets.”
Test costs would be determined by Qiagen but Dr Parsons said the greater the scale of production, the more cost-effective it would be. “The facility will produce 15 million tests a month and as we grow, we’ll be able to reduce costs,” he said.