Virus detection tech gets funding for COVID adaptation

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Technology designed to detect biological threats and viruses in airports and hospitals is to be customised to identify the COVID-19 virus in public places.


Kromek, headquartered in Durham, has received £1.25m from Innovate UK to adapt its biological threat detection system, which is already deployed in high-footfall locations to identify airborne threats.

Using DNA sequencing, Kromek’s radiation-based technology samples the air in-situ to automatically detect and analyse airborne pathogens. The system will now be adapted to rapidly test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes COVID-19 – as well as mutations of the virus which have recently been raising alarms.

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Funding for the project has been awarded under an 18-month programme of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that is seeking solutions to address and mitigate the health, social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the pandemic. Kromek expects pilot projects of the new COVID detection system to be up and running by the summer, with commercial rollout in 2021/2022.

“We are very pleased to have received backing from UKRI and Innovate UK to progress the deployment of our solution for the detection of airborne COVID-19,” said Dr Arnab Basu, CEO of Kromek.

“Our system can augment the government’s Test and Trace system by enabling early identification of potential exposure to the virus while supporting the safe return of visitors to public spaces like mass transport, retail outlets and entertainment venues. We also believe that the continuous monitoring with our system, which can test for a wide spectrum of viruses as well as mutations of COVID-19, has significant potential for protecting against the outbreak of pandemics in the future.”

By detecting the virus in the air in real-time rather than solely relying on individual testing methods, the system will enable earlier identification of potential infection exposure, which will help reduce transmission.

According to Kromek, it will also support facilities management by enabling site operators to know what level of ventilation is required from HVAC systems, or when decontamination is necessary.