Shares of Halifax-based Sona Nanotech more than doubled Friday after the nanoparticle technology company said clinical trials showed its COVID-19 rapid testing kit has a 96 percent sensitivity to the virus.

The company’s shares on the Canadian Stock Exchange surged $3.84 or 123 percent, closing at $6.97 on Friday. The shares opened 2020 at 11 cents, and have produced a 6200 percent return so far this year. The company now has a market value of $374 million.

Sona Nanotech’s improved outlook has come as it adapted its technology, which manufactures rod-shaped gold nanoparticles for use in diagnostic testing, to a rapid test for COVID-19. The company has been conducting clinical trials for these test kits, and late Thursday it announced the lab trials suggest that Sona’s technology can detect SARS-CoV-2 in patients with “low viral loads” in about 15 minutes. Sona also ran an experiment using nasal swabs from 30 human test subjects and irradiated virus samples, with comparable results.

"These excellent performance results . . . [complete] a further milestone achieved for Sona along our path to bring a quality rapid test to market at scale,” said CEO Darren Rowles in the statement. “This will allow expansion of testing by governments, help ease the burden on healthcare systems, keep healthcare workers safe by allowing them to know their status on a daily basis and assist in softening restrictions by providing a quick and simple means to screen individuals.”

Sona’s manufacturers are about to start production, although the tests will initially be sold with a “research use only” label. To remove the disclaimer, Rowles’ team will need to receive approval from regulators.

“The Company will provide an update on sales progress and manufacturing delivery timetables in the coming weeks,” said the company in the statement.

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The test uses gold nanoparticles to detect proteins on the surface of the virus, rather than detecting its genetic material, as most tests do. A patient’s viral load is the amount of the virus they have in their body.

Conventional COVID-19 tests can take several hours, and require more complex laboratory equipment than what is needed for Sona’s version. Most other tests also cost in the hundreds of dollars, compared to a planned price point of no more than $50 for the Sona test. Rowles said in an interview that the price of the test kit will fall once the company receives larger orders.

The company, which grew out of nanotechnology research at St. Francis Xavier University, has been commercializing the test kits with the help of several partners, including GE Healthcare Life Sciences and Charlottetown-based AffinityImmuno.

The announcement comes in the wake of Sona Nanotech receiving a $4.1 million grant from the Toronto-based NGen manufacturing supercluster in April, with the money having been earmarked to commercialize Sona’s coronavirus test.

Rowles added that Sona hopes to generate the necessary data for the next step of the commercialization process in July, but warned that it is difficult to predict how long regulatory sign-off will take.

“Obviously, we’re doing everything we can as fast as possible, to generate all the appropriate data that they need for their review,” he said.