One of the most hotly anticipated panels from the recent International Music Summit tackled the growth of front-of-house pill testing at large events
Sign up for IQ Index
The latest industry news to your inbox.
An increasing amount of companies are developing testing kits and protocols that might just allow a return to live sooner rather than later
By IQ on 04 Nov 2020
The desire of people to gather together, uninhibited, to see their favourite act or to discover a new band has never been greater, thanks to the coronavirus restrictions that have banned mass gatherings for the greater part of 2020.
With no end in sight to defeating the plague, the live events sector is exploring the possibility of opening its doors to fans who test negatively for Covid-19, and thankfully there are a growing number of companies around the world who are developing testing kits and protocols that might just allow promoters, festivals and venues to kickstart their businesses in the not too distant future.
Much as 2020 has been a year to forget, it’s likely to remain at the forefront of our minds for many years to come as a 21st-century reminder of how a virus can disrupt the lives of billions of people and bring everyday life to a shuddering halt.
The UK government’s chief of test and trace, Baroness Dido Harding, recently said that on-the-spot tests might have to be the cost of doing business for venues and event organisers. Given the project name Operation Moonshot, the plan would involve businesses paying for mass Covid-testing schemes, but they could prove vital if hopes to test up to 10 million people each day are to come to fruition.
However, with tests currently priced in the region of £30 per swab and some systems requiring significant infrastructure investment, innovators around the world are working hard on new rapid testing methods to bring costs down in an effort to make mass testing viable.
Now, IQ looks at some of systems developed in the UK (please note that being featured here does not necessarily mean these tests are approved for use in all territories).
Noting the possibility that a vaccine could be 12-18 months away, Chronomics states that the ‘new normal’ could be in place until 2024, leading to the company’s development of a simple spit test for coronavirus that can be used for mass testing.
The Chronomics Covid-19 saliva testing kit is easy to use and painless, and can be sent to people’s homes rather than requiring members of the public to attend hospitals, labs or testing centres. Completed tests can be courier-collected and brought to Chronomics labs for testing.
The Chronomics test is highly specific to SARS-CoV-2, meaning it won’t be confounded by other human viruses, and it will detect all strains of the virus that have evolved to date.
Although the company has not divulged pricing, it claims that the test analysis can be automated, making it scalable for mass testing. As a result, Chronomics is marketing its testing system to companies, hospitals, laboratories and governments around the world.
The test can be sent to homes rather than requiring members of the public to attend hospitals, labs or testing centres
London-based DNANudge takes nostril swabs and can scan for the coronavirus in just 75 minutes, thanks to a handheld device that analyses the swab.
The test, developed by Imperial College London’s Chris Toumazou, is based on the design of a DNA test, but significantly cuts down on the 48-hour wait for a laboratory diagnosis.
The company quotes £28 (€31) per test on average, and the UK government has reportedly ordered 5.8 million tests, plus 5,000 of the portable machines, as part of a £161million (€177m) contract.
DNANudge claims its tests can also detect mild and asymptomatic cases of the virus. It boasts 100% specificity, meaning it can tell the difference between a person who doesn’t have Covid-19 and a sample that was not correctly processed, thereby eliminating the possibility of any false negative results.
The DNANudge ‘lab in a cartridge’ machines are reportedly limited to 15 tests each, per day.
DNANudge takes nostril swabs and can scan for the coronavirus in just 75 minutes, thanks to a handheld device
Biotech company Oxford Nanopore has developed portable swab-recording machines that use the firm’s LamPORE tests and can determine whether a user has Covid. The devices, which are the size of desktop printers, take 90 minutes to give a result and can process more than 9,000 samples a day.
The LamPORE procedure involves taking a sample of saliva, which can be barcoded, analysed and recorded by the devices. Analysis must be done in a laboratory, but the company’s labs can be mobile and installed into vehicles or pop-up test sites, with a portable version of the LamPORE device measuring around the same size as a CD player.
The UK government has ordered 450,000 of the tests for trial, but millions more could be purchased if those trials prove fruitful. The Oxford Nanopore Diagnostics LamPORE Covid-19 Test Kit 96 Plex is intended for use by trained laboratory personnel experienced in the conduct of in vitro diagnostic procedures.
The devices, which are the size of desktop printers, take 90 minutes to give a result and can process 9,000+ samples a day
The Halo team is led by EpiPen inventor Craig Rochford, alongside biotech and computer scientists from Oxford University. Halo says it is already working with a number of professional services, transport and other organisations to roll out its testing services.
Halo’s saliva test kit allows people to test at home by spitting into a tube and sending the sample off for processing. The company says it can turn around results in as little as seven hours and claims 100% accuracy. Test results are communicated through a phone app.
At press time, Halo says it can process more than 250,000 tests per week in a testing module. The company has a lab at Imperial College London, but says its capacity can be quickly increased by scaling up its number of labs. Prices are believed to be lower than £25 (€28) per kit.
The Halo test is similar, but less invasive, to the PCR test used globally for testing people for the coronavirus using a swab. Halo purifies the genetic material from saliva and uses polymerase chain reaction to detect the virus in a lab. The company claims people should never get a false positive result if they don’t have the virus.
Halo’s first customer was a UK university, but it is also reportedly in discussions with a global airline, a medical research facility, and a variety of financial institutions and businesses.
The company says it can turn around results in as little as seven hours and claims 100% accuracy
During the current pandemic, Nonacus has diverted resources and expertise into developing simple, low-cost and scalable testing products for Sars-CoV-2. These products are only available for testing laboratories or third-party providers who wish to use the Nonacus service facility.
Earlier this year, the UK-based company’s Covid-19 spit test received a share of a £40million (€44m) government grant to speed up development work. The test involves spitting into a tube, which can be delivered to individual homes. The test is then sealed and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Nonacus says samples can be examined by a significantly higher and broader number of labs than those processing existing swabs because a solution in the bottom of the tube inactivates the coronavirus, avoiding potential contamination or spread of the virus.
Chris Sale, CEO and co-founder of Nonacus, says the government grant is being utilised to make the product commercially available later this year.
The Covid-19 spit test received a share of a £40million (€44m) government grant to speed up development work
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, biomedical company OptiGene has developed a swab test that takes just 20 minutes to diagnose people.
The system requires patients to undertake nasal and throat swabs, which can subsequently be loaded into the company’s automated Genie HT machines, which can detect tiny traces of the virus in a patient’s DNA.
The Genie HT devices use chemicals to amplify the DNA billions of times so that any sign of Covid-19 can be identified with extreme sensitivity. The machines can also reportedly be used with saliva samples, potentially meaning a less invasive testing procedure.
In contrast to the widely used PCR tests, which require processes to be conducted at different temperatures and have a slow turnaround time,theGenieHTdoesnot require a change in temperature, allowing it to deliver results in as quick as 20 minutes.
The OptiGene system is being trialled by the UK government in a number of hospital accident and emergency departments, doctors’ surgeriesandcarehomesinEngland.
OptiGene has developed a swab test that takes just 20 minutes to diagnose people
Developed by Northern Ireland-based healthcare specialists, Randox, the portable Vivalytic antigen testing system takes around 12 minutes to process results.
The device relies on nasal and oral mouth swabs and, operated by a healthcare professional, each machine can deal with five swabs per hour. Randox says its device works by “identifying SARS-CoV-2 and differentiating it from nine other respiratory infections with similar symptoms, including influenza and all known coronaviruses.”
It is thought the Vivalytic devices are still in the trial stage, but they have reportedly been introduced in multiple hospitals across
In July, hundreds of thousands of swabs were recalled after they failed rigorous safety requirements. However, Randox said the problem was with the swab supplier, rather than its testing procedures, and the machines that carry out the tests were not found to be unsafe.
The portable Vivalytic antigen testing system takes around 12 minutes to process results
Rapid Lamp Testing
Rapid Lamp Testing was established in May this year when its founders took an interest in Melvin Benn’s full-capacity plan but quickly realised the existing tech and testing would not support those ambitions.
Rapid Lamp Testing, it says, meets the accuracy criteria of the full-cap plan through a combination of highly accurate early-stage testing and encrypted data management to allow gatherings of people in safety, with a temporary suspension of social distancing, if needed.
In addition to the testing protocol, Rapid Lamp Testing can provide event management support through the monitoring of squads and support staff in a secure working bubble.
The Rapid Lamp Testing process does not need laboratory conditions – the company says testing can be done at venues – and results can be returned in 45 minutes. Those results can be delivered via an app.
The company says its specificity is 100%, with zero chance of false negatives, while the test sensitivity can detect one virus-cell per micro-litre of test liquid.
It has been working with film production companies, #wemakeevents planning, athletics meetings, and commercial occupational health companies.
Its point-of-care-testing analytical machines cost £9,000–15,000 (€9,920– 16,530) depending on spec, while test kits are priced at £38–40 (€41–44) per test, with self-testing a possibility when its saliva test is developed.
The test was established in May this year when its founders took an interest in Melvin Benn’s full-capacity plan
Developed by University of Cambridge spin-off company, Diagnostics for the Real World, Samba II is a nose-and-throat swab that claims to have a testing turnaround time of 90 minutes.
The portable machines required to process the swabs have a capacity limit of 15 tests per day but the 90-minute analysis time places them ahead of a number of competing Covid-testing systems. Priced at £30 (€33) per test, Samba II is reportedly 99% accurate through its ability to scour DNA in the throat and nose to detect the virus.
Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has been trialling the device since April, and its success rate has resulted in the hospital switching the majority of its coronavirus testing to the Samba machine system.
The tests have been validated by Public Health England and shown to have 98.7% sensitivity and 100% specificity, while the Samba devices are already used to diagnose other blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
Samba II is a nose-and-throat swab that claims to have a testing turnaround time of 90 minutes
Already touted as a potential solution for stadia and arenas, Virolens has been trialled at Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, prompting the airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, to urge UK government to fast-track clinical trials to speed its adoption for widespread use.
Virolens uses a digital camera attached to a microscope to analyse saliva samples, and delivers results in a remarkable 20 seconds.
Developed by British start–up iAbra, Virolens uses technology powered by Intel, and does not require medically trained operatives. People swab saliva from their mouth before placing the sample in a cartridge that can be immediately analysed by the Virolens device, dispensing of the need for a laboratory.
The Virolens system reportedly has a 99.8% sensitivity, which means almost every single person who tests positive is truly infected, and there are no false negatives.
At the same time, it reportedly has 96.7% specificity, meaning three in every 100 people might get a false positive result stating they have the virus when they do not. Those results, at the doors of a venue, for instance, might merit more thorough testing before access was denied.
Virolens says its screening devices can each carry out hundreds of tests per day and it is believed the company is in the process of manufacturing thousands of the testing machines.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.