Via Financial Times

French pharmaceutical company Sanofi is teaming up with Silicon Valley start-up Luminostics to develop a coronavirus test that patients could do themselves using a device plugged into a smartphone. 

As countries across the world struggle to test enough patients for Covid-19, the companies hope their novel test would be easy to deploy without the need for a healthcare professional or sending a sample to a laboratory, and deliver an answer in less than a half-hour.

Alan Main, executive vice-president at Sanofi, said the project “could lead to another important milestone” in the company’s fight against the coronavirus. 

“The development of a self-testing solution with Luminostics could help provide clarity to an individual — in minutes — on whether or not they are infected,” he said. 

The test would use Luminostics’ new type of glow-in-the-dark nanoparticle that can be detected by a smartphone’s camera when used with an adapter.

Patients could take a sample from the back of their nose, insert the swab into a small device containing a chemical including the nanoparticle and clip it into the adapter. The nanoparticle would glow when it comes into contact with the virus. The signal would be captured by the camera and processed using artificial intelligence. The results would then be displayed on an app and users could connect with a doctor by video call to discuss them. 

The test would not be ready until the end of 2020 at the earliest. Luminostics has created prototypes for other conditions including sexually transmitted diseases and influenza, although they have not yet been approved, nor has it created a nanoparticle specifically for Covid-19. 

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Once it has a nanoparticle that can target Covid-19, Sanofi would have to do extensive testing on the possible solution and seek regulatory approval. The US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates drug safety, has eased regulations for coronavirus tests designed to be done in laboratories, but it is not clear it would make the same decision for at-home tests. 

No financial details of the partnership were disclosed. Luminostics has taken investments from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures and accelerator Y Combinator, and has received funding from the US National Institute of Health. 

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are racing to find new ways to speed up the testing process, since knowing who has and does not have the disease will be crucial to reopening the world’s economies — and monitoring if the rate of infection increases again. 

Marissa Schlueter, senior analyst at research firm CB Insights, said there have been “significant developments” in use such immunofluorescent tests to detect E.coli, Zika, and chlamydia. 

“While there are distinct challenges in developing an over-the-counter test for Covid-19, the underlying technology has potential,” she said.