Singapore’s Biolidics Limited is betting big on its COVID-19 rapid test kits after clearing regulatory hurdles from the health authorities in Singapore, the Philippines and the European Union.
The medtech company, which specializes in cancer treatment equipment and applications, has created a test kit that detects antibodies directed against the coronavirus that’s sweeping the world. Biolidics says the tests have an accuracy rate of 95% based on its clinical trial of 570 samples.
Instead of deep throat or nose swabs that are intrusive and typically require hours or even days before the results are known, Biolidics’ tests use blood samples and a small device that measures antibody response to the virus within 10 minutes.
The company cautions that their rapid test kit results should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis or for confirmatory testing. The results need to be interpreted together with clinical examination and confirmed with supplemental testing. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued a document released to all registered medical practitioners on April 3 stating, “There is currently no role for COVID-19 serology rapid test kits in the diagnosis of COVID-19 infections.”
The Biolidics test checks the blood for antibodies and can identify who was previously infected and may have already developed immunity to the virus. To date, 1.5 million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, and 88,000 have died from the epidemic.
Shares of Biolidics have risen 29% since announcing it had received provisional authorization from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority on March 30. The following day, the Department of Health in the Philippines authorized the use of the company’s rapid test kit for the detection of COVID-19. The EU gave its approval to market and sell the tests on April 3.
In the context of blood testing for antibodies, “the technologies are not new,” says Jeremy Yee, chairman of Biolidics. “It’s been around since 1961 and used as a tool for [testing] Ebola and other pandemics.” However, the publicly traded firm with a market cap of S$70 million ($49 million) has been quick to gain a leg up as one of the early movers.
The first batch of test kits are “on the plane from China to Singapore as we speak,” says Dr. Wang Qing-Yin, Biolidics chief operating officer and former principal scientist at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.
Yee estimates commissioning roughly two million COVID-19 test kits in the next two months from Nanjing-based Vazyme Biotech, a Chinese producer of enzymes and antibodies. “In terms of production, we are only essentially limited by our capital,” he says of temporarily reallocating resources meant for its cancer business to fund production costs.
While revenue for Biolidics rose 13.4% to S$1.4 million in 2019 from a year ago mainly driven by its cancer detection systems, the company is still in the red. But Yee expects sales of the new test kits to provide a major boost to earnings this year.
In the meantime, Biolidics is working to gain approval to sell its infectious disease diagnostic kits in other countries in Asia, and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization.
Biolidics is a spin-off of Singapore’s publicly traded Clearbridge Health incorporated in 2009. In December 2018, the cancer diagnostics unit of Clearbridge listed on the SGX Catalist board as Biolidics, raising S$7.7 million representing 11.3% of the company. Clearbridge remains its biggest shareholder with a 24% stake followed by the government statutory board Enterprise Singapore under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, via its Seeds Capital fund holding a 11% stake. The company plans to expand into China and develop innovative diagnostic solutions to lower healthcare costs and improve clinical outcomes.
Pamela covers entrepreneurs, wealth, blockchain and the crypto economy as a senior reporter across digital and print platforms. Prior to Forbes, she served as on-air foreign correspondent for Thomson Reuters’ broadcast team, during which she reported on global markets, central bank policies, and breaking business news. Before Asia, she was a journalist at NBC Comcast, and started her career at CNBC and Bloomberg as a financial news producer in New York. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo, USA Today, Huffington Post, and Nasdaq. Pamela’s previous incarnation was on the buy side in M&A research and asset management, inspired by Michael Lewis’ book “Liar’s Poker”. Follow me on Twitter at @pamambler
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