Creator of Covid Tracer app wants to test more accurate RAT in New Zealand

The man credited with being the mastermind behind the Covid tracer app is trying to import and test a new kind of rapid antigen test that could be as accurate as PCRs.

New Zealand experts say it could provide cheap, fast and accurate tests with far fewer false negatives – but getting PASPORT across the border isn’t proving straightforward.

The new test from Duke Medical School in Singapore looks like a regular RAT test and can still be done at home in 15 minutes, evaluating saliva instead of a nasal swab.

The new test uses saliva instead of a nasal swab. (file photo)
Photo: Unsplash / Annie Spratt

Professors who conducted an early clinical study at Duke found it to be 97% sensitive – far more than current tests used in New Zealand, which modeller and lead researcher at Te Pūnaha Matatini Emily Harvey said had blind spots. , sometimes unable to detect early-stage infections.

“You can miss a lot of people that way. The other thing is that these antigen tests are just a lot less sensitive than PCRs, so they’ll have false negatives, so you’ll miss infections with them,” he said. she explains.

Technology developer Alan Chew said the results of the first PASPORT trials blew him away.

He first heard of the tests, which use “amplified parallel” technology, when New Zealanders were saddled with long waits for their PCR results.

They’re also cheap, he said: PCRs also cost up to $200 each — and the new LAMP test costs around $60 to $80 each — while PASPORT kits are priced similarly to RATs. ordinary, about $10 each.

The developers have also created an automated machine that will read results and eliminate testing, designed to be installed in places like airports.

“It solves all of those issues at once…it’s more than positive, it’s transformational,” Chew said.

This is not the first time that he has presented an idea to the Ministry of Health.

Earlier, he came up with the idea of ​​QR scanning for contact tracing and created the prototype of the Covid Tracer app.

But he said it took a long time to bring PASPORT to New Zealand, even just for testing.

“There’s been a lot of red tape. Some of that is necessary because you’re dealing with a product that’s going to affect a lot of people’s lives. But I think we’re in an emergency period…the are still,” he said.

The Department of Health has so far approved 17 types of RATs, but said people wishing to import a new type must go through an “assessment process”.

He said the threshold for importing RAT is high in New Zealand because it looks at the clinical performance of the product, including whether it is at least 80% accurate in trials.

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Technology developer Alan Chew said the results of the first PASPORT trials blew him away.
Photo: Provided

Frustration for importers

The president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Terry Taylor, said many importers had felt frustrated with the rules.

“This is just one of those nightmares that importers have had for the past…over a year. The ministry has been very careful about what they allow into the country,” he said. he declares.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword because if you open it up as a free-for-all, you’re going to bring a lot of trash into the country…but the testing is much better now.”

Terry Taylor, president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences (NZIMLS), was shocked at the ferocity of his symptoms when he tested positive for Covid-19.

Terry Taylor says Covid-19 tests are much more accurate now.
Photo: Provided

Experts here said they were cautiously optimistic about the PASPORT test, but larger trials were needed.

Modeler Dion O’Neale said it would be important to know that it works on all populations and does not return false positives from previous infections.

“There will almost certainly be situations where a test with increased sensitivity will be useful. But there will be situations where it might be less useful. You would want to make sure that you are using it in the situation that is appropriate, that has the more impact,” he said.

“That could mean using it at the border but not from testing to release.”

PASPORT chief scientist Weijie Poh said it had progressed beyond the trials in Singapore and was now licensed.

“We are in the process of doing commercial production of the kits, right now, and repeating the clinical validation that we have done, with these commercial kits,” he said.

Alan Chew said that if he could bring the PASPORT test to the country and prove its performance, he would first want to make it available to airlines, whose staff are among those most in need of rapid tests and precise.

After that, he said he would like to talk to the government to make it accessible to the rest of the population.

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