Coronavirus Test: East Bay company to have hand-held COVID-19 testing devices ready by next month

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- An East Bay biotech company is racing to launch a portable COVID-19 test that promises results in under 15 minutes.

The need has never been greater

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The spread of COVID-19 within senior care facilities underscores the need for a portable testing device that can confirm infections quickly. That's why the team at Nanomix in Emeryville is working hard to get its device deployed. They already have the hand-held device and the cartridge in which the analysis is performed.

"The cartridge is plugged into our mobile instrument," said Nanomix President & CEO David Ludvigson. "It can be done anywhere the subject is as well. The operator presses go. It takes less than 15 minutes to run through the testing protocol."

What needs final testing is the biological process that goes into the cartridge.

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The Nanomix system takes both a nasal swab sample for the virus and a blood sample to detect antibodies the immune system develops as a result of the infection. In that way, it can detect both active and past infections.

The device is the size of a brick and weighs less than two pounds. It can be operated by anyone with minimum training at a wide range of sites, such as schools, airports, or nursing facilities.

Multiple patients can be tested on the spot without waiting for an off-site laboratory to analyze the samples. A similar system was field-tested in Africa during the Ebola outbreak.

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"We need high volume rapid testing so we know what the real infection rates are and we know whether we can start moving back to a more normal lifestyle," said Ludvigson.

It's too early to know if COVID-19 patients who recover develop immunity, but Ludvigson believes the Nanomix system will allow more widespread testing to determine that. It's working with the FDA to get the mobile testing system deployed by the end of May.

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