Dartmouth-based Sona Nanotech is developing a rapid screening test for the Coronavirus, a fatal disease that has spread around the world.

Sona is using its nanotechnology in the development of a rapid screening test for the novel Coronavirus, known as nCoV19, the company said in a statement.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December. There have since been more than 40,000 cases globally, with more than 1,000 deaths.

“Screening tests are critical tools in dealing with rapidly evolving and large-scale outbreaks that tax the health care system,” said Sona Nanotech CEO Darren Rowles in the statement.

“Screening tests rapidly identify at-risk patients, which allows the medical community to focus its resources on the patients that need help the most.”

Sona has developed two methods for the manufacture of rod-shaped gold nanoparticles for use in diagnostic testing. The company 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).

Currently, the majority of testing completed for the nCoV19 virus uses molecular based technology (PCR), a testing platform that typically costs more than $200 per test, frequently takes two to four hours to produce results, and requires specialized laboratory equipment and skilled technicians to operate, the statement said.

Lateral flow assays provide results in between five and 15 minutes and can be administered by a layperson. The new test is expected to cost less than $50. There is currently no lateral flow test specific to the nCoV19 strain of the Coronavirus, the statement said.

Rowles said lateral flow tests previously developed with Sona’s nanorods have demonstrated high sensitivity levels compared to other particles.

“The higher the test sensitivity, the more accurately a lateral-flow screening test will identify patients as ‘at-risk’ or ‘not at risk,’” he said.

Research shows that outbreaks of infectious diseases are rising around the world.  According to World Bank estimates, the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly US$570 billion, or 0.7 per cent of global income. The infectious disease diagnostics market is forecast to be worth more than US$20 billion by 2024.

Sona is in discussions with several companies and organizations relating to the development of the test and expects to provide updates in the coming days.