Darren Rowles

Darren Rowles

Halifax-based Sona Nanotech has secured a $4.1 million grant from NGen, Canada's advanced manufacturing supercluster, to commercialize its Covid-19 rapid-response antigen test.

With a mission of producing gold nanoparticles for diagnostic testing, Sona Nano’s prospects have improved in the past eight weeks as it began work on a quick and easy test for the virus that has killed thousands and paralyzed the economy.

Sona announced development of the test in February then unveiled a range of partners (including GE Healthcare Life Sciences) to help bring it to market and has now secured development funding.

"NGen is excited to support Sona Nanotech's efforts to get a point-of-care test for Covid-19 in the hands of Canadian medical authorities as soon as possible,” said NGen CEO Jay Myers in a statement. “Sona's proprietary and unique gold nanorod technology enables a rapid-response antigen test that has the potential to significantly reduce the time-to-results for Covid-19 diagnosis and ultimately save lives."

The big question is when the product will be available, and Sona Nano is only saying that it is working on the development and hopes to deliver the tests as soon as possible.

“Sona anticipate delivering our direct antigen detection test to market rapidly, and at scale, to help combat the continuing pandemic of Covid-19,” said CEO Darren Rowles in an email Monday.

NGen, which stands for Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is one of five superclusters funded by the Canadian government to develop international centers of excellence. Based in Toronto, it manages $230 million in federal funding and provided money to Sona as part of a $50 million initiative to support companies that are producing technologies to fight Covid-19.

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Sona has developed two methods for the manufacture of rod-shaped gold nanoparticles for use in diagnostic testing. The company, which grew out of nanotechnology research conducted at St. Francis Xavier University, intends to use its technology in a disposable lateral flow test (similar to pregnancy tests that can be administered without skilled technicians or additional laboratory equipment).

As of February, most Covid-19 virus testing used molecular-based technology that typically cost more than $200 per test, took two to four hours to produce results, and required specialized laboratory equipment and skilled technicians.

Lateral flow assays provide results in between five and 15 minutes and can be administered by a layperson, said the company. The new test is expected to cost less than $50. The goal is to ease the strain on the healthcare system and increase the system’s capacity. There is currently no lateral flow test specific to the Covid-19 strain of the coronavirus, the company said in February.

“This funding will speed up the whole process and continue to allow us to execute on manufacture contracts, secure key raw materials, provide highly skilled jobs in key roles across both technical and commercial teams,” said Rowles. He added the NGen aid would also help to “extend our consortium with new partners to assist us in bringing the first test of its kind for Covid-19 to market, at the scale that is needed to help flatten the curve.”

The company is working with a consortium of international and Canadian partners to develop the test, including: GE Healthcare Life Sciences; The Native Antigen Company of Great Britain; Charlottetown-based AffinityImmunoBond Digital Health, also of Britain; and scientific advisers Fiona Marshall and Sandy Morrison.

Sona added that it doesn’t expect to begin the actual manufacturing of its test until it secures firm orders with deposits.

Sona shares, which are listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange, closed down 3.6 percent Monday at $1.08, but have increased 272 percent in the past year.