Sapient Sensors has developed a simple but groundbreaking test, which quickly analyses saliva and produces an on-the-spot result without unpleasant nasal swabs.
It’s a potential game-changer when it comes to speed, comfort and convenience in testing for Covid-19 infection.
Now the race is on to get Vi-Free™ hand-held devices out to a world that will be coping with the virus for many years to come.
Vi-Free could be brought to market within months and Sapient Sensors’ chief executive Keith Robson is excited about how transformative it will be.
Speaking from the diagnostic company’s base in NetPark, Sedgefield, he said: “Every element of this works. We know we can build it and have shown it recognises the Covid-19 spike protein – and in future, it can be customised for other viruses.
“We’re very excited because it has worldwide applicability and will provide immediate, cost-effective and accurate measurements to a world hit so hard by Covid-19.
“The Vi-Free is a palm-sized device – an electronic recorder used with disposable test strips with the capability of transmitting results to Test and Trace, to allow passporting.
“We continue to develop and test for consistency and accuracy but funding is the key – we could be ready to roll out from the end of the year.
“We need £500,000 to deliver the prototype and £1.1m for manufacturing but that’s drop-in-the-ocean stuff compared to the money governments and organisations are spending looking for a diagnostic system like Vi-Free.”
The currently used lateral flow tests take half-an-hour and require strict conditions for success. They are rough-and-ready tests analysing mucus swabs from the nose and throat, as opposed to the saliva test of the Vi-Free. Swabbing is unpleasant and invasive and the tests can produce “false negatives”, without someone with training supervising how to test properly.
“In contrast, our tests can be done anywhere by anyone without discomfort to the person being tested, and we want to make Vi-Free affordable,” said Sapient Sensors’ chairman Ralph Pickles.
“Our pricing model would make the reusable device available for around £10, with each disposable test strip costing around £1.”
As well as making testing simple and cheap, it opens up the prospects of a return to normality.
Ralph explained: “With Vi-Free, you could take the test at a venue and get instant proof whether you had Covid-19 or not. We could all access venues much as we used to but knowing everyone there is Covid-safe.
“Recently the world has had Ebola, SARS, Zika and Covid-19, so testing is going to be a continuing requirement.”
So clearly is the patented Vi-Free product an obvious solution that it has attracted interest, most notably a £100,000 investment from North Star for proof of concept.
But more funding is needed and quickly if the Vi-Free is to become a familiar and everyday aid for all.
Keith, who co-founded the company in 2011, said: “We are well-resourced with experts at Leeds and Manchester universities – leaders in their field – having successfully developed the testing system.
“We need funding and are pushing our case all the time – we want the government to see Sapient Sensors as the future.
“Traditionally it is hard to break into the health market but the shock of Covid-19 has helped reduce barriers.
“The government is sponsoring scientific development and we want to be at the forefront of that to give the world a fantastic testing resource.
“Our test is the future of diagnostics and does not need massive investment – all the parts can be got from existing manufacturers such as electronics companies. The supply chain is there.
“As a company, Sapient Sensors is hugely ambitious because we see the value of Vi-Free not only to authorities, organisations, employers and governments but perhaps most of all, to the general public.”
Find out more about Sapient Sensors at sapientsensors.com.