Sanofi links with Luminostics on smartphone coronavirus test

French drugmaker Sanofi is collaborating with US start-up Luminostics to develop a smartphone-based self-diagnosis test for COVID-19 that could give a result within 30 minutes.

The two companies say the test would take the form of an iOS or Android smartphone app linked to a plug-in device that could be used by patients on their own, needing no access to a healthcare professional or laboratory.

It could be available before the end of the year, subject to regulatory approvals, they suggest.

San Jose, California-based Luminostics has developed a smartphone-based diagnostic platform that can detect a broad range of substances – bacteria, viruses, small molecules, hormones, and proteins for example – from a variety of sample types.

It uses nanoparticles that bind to their target – in this case SARS-CoV-2 genetic material – and result in a glow-in-the-dark chemical reaction.

The luminescence can be detected using a consumer smartphone’s built-in camera and flash plus a low-cost, reusable plastic adapter as the reader device, with 100 to 1,000-fold lower detection limits than conventional visual assays, according to the company.

To use the test, people would take a swab from the back of their nose, insert it into a device containing the nanoparticle reagents, and attach that to their phone using an adaptor.

If the virus is present, the nanomaterial would glow and the signal would be captured by the camera, with the images processed using artificial intelligence. The app would then display the results, and could be used to connect patients immediately with healthcare professionals to discuss their next steps.

The partners say a rapid, self-testing solution could be rapidly rolled out and made available to the public via online and offline retail, and could be safer as it does not require any contact with healthcare and lab staff.

“During the current COVID-19 crisis it became obvious that rapid, reliable mass testing is one of the key strategies for successful containment of a pandemic outbreak,” they maintain.

“While point-of-care tests were made available relatively quickly – although not in a sufficient quantity – no over-the-counter (OTC) self-testing solution is currently available.”

Sanofi said it would bring its clinical research testing capabilities to the alliance, as well as its global distribution networks, to make sure that the diagnostic reaches people around the world quickly if approved.

The company has also teamed with with GlaxoSmithKline on a project to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, and is carrying out clinical trials of two of its marketed drugs – Kevzara (sarilumab) and Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) – to see if they can help patients with COVID-19.

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