Forget days in quarantine. Auckland biotech company Pictor says it is developing a test for Covid-19 that will be able to tell you if you're infected, or not, within an hour - rather than the current one or two days or longer.
It will be a blood test - so think a pinprick on your finger rather than the nasal swabs used for all testing in NZ today - and should be ready by November, chief executive Howard Moore says.
The Pictor boss says, "Current diagnostic testing in New Zealand for Covid-19 is slow, complex, expensive, and must be done in a specialist central laboratory," whereas his company's test will be cheap and easy, if all goes to plan.
It will not require any specialist equipment and be "very competitive" with the cost of blood tests for Covid-19 antibodies today (which cost up to $19 per test), even though Pictor's test will be more sweeping in scope.
Moore is hoping for international success for the test, which he says would both help the global fight against Covid-19 and provide a commercial success that would aid NZ's economic recovery.
Pictor is also developing a new test for Mycoplasma Bovis that it hopes will have a much higher sensitivity rate.
The current test catches around 65 per cent of infections. Chief executive Howard Moore says a new test, being developed in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, will detect around 95 per cent of infections when it's released around June next year.
The University of Melbourne developed the test in current use. It approached Pictor to help it hone the successor.
"As the prevalence of the disease in the cattle population gets lower and lower, the ability to detect it will get harder and harder, which is why we need a more sensitive test," says Moore, who had a string of executive roles in the dairy industry - many with a research or biotech focus - before joining Pictor in 2017.
Both efforts have just received a boost from Government funding.
The new coronavirus test received $500,000 from the $25m Covid-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund announced by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods (see list of recipients below).
And the M Bovis test got an undisclosed slice of the $30m for research projects under the M Bovis programme being run by the Ministry for Primary Industries, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb).
Both efforts also involve some of the privately-held Pictor's own capital. Its investors include the ubiquitous Sir Stephen Tindall via his K1W1 fund.
Broadly, there are two types of tests for Covid-19: The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) nasal swabs used for all tests here, which look for the virus's genetic material, and serology tests (the extraction and examination of blood serum) that look for antibodies created by the body in response to the virus.
Serology tests are much easier and cheaper to scale up if a government is looking hundreds of thousands of tests per week, but early results from those developed to detect antibodies have been patchy.
While there are some antibody tests already on the market overseas, Moore says many are low quality and have a high number of false-negatives, including some health workers who have been given the all-clear when it's later transpired they have Covid-19.
And he says that Pictor's blood testing, which will build on the platform it has been developing since 2007, will be broader in scope than the antibody tests that have started to appear overseas.
"We propose developing a new diagnostic test to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection at all stages of the Covid-19 disease. It will involve the simultaneous detection of specific biomarkers involved in different stages of infection, enabling early diagnosis of infected patients, including asymptomatic patients," Moore says.
"We incorporate antibodies in our testing, but the problem is if you only test for antibodies is that they don't appear for 10 to 14 days post-infection. And while PCR testing can detect earlier than that, PCR testing is also not detecting a significant proportion of patients who are asymptomatic.
"We see our multiplex test as being an additional tool that can be used to detect some of these asymptomatic people who are currently testing negative."
Moore says his company's key advantage is its lead scientist, Dr Sandeep K. Vashist, who joined Pictor in July fast year and is a world-renowned coronavirus expert.
Pictor was founded in 2005 by two entrepreneurial scientists, Dr Anand Kumble and Dr Sarita Kumble. The pair retired in 2017 when Moore was appointed CEO. The company has 20 employees located in New Zealand, Europe and India. Some 250 laboratories in India are using Pictor's multiplex PictArrays to screen for maternal infections, auto immune diseases and hepatitis.
Moore or less
"We see the Covid-19 and M. bovis tests as being strategically important for New Zealand and we really do appreciate the support that we're getting from the government at this time," Moore says.
If Pictor got even more support, could it deliver a solution before November?
"More resources always works," Moore says. "So the answer to that is 'yes' - but you do get into diminishing returns."
$264,124, for Auckland UniServices Limited, for an innovative remote body temperature monitoring solution to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Up to $100,000, for Avalia Immunotherapies Limited, for addressing security of supply for a Sars-CoV-2 prophylactic vaccine for New Zealanders, now and in the future.
$500,000, for Digital Sensing Ltd, for mass-production of Point-of-Care Diagnostics for Covid-19 and Blood Based Biomarkers.
$200,000, for Elbaware, for haptic technology to reduce face-touching and risk of Covid-19 transmission.
$457,000, for ES Plastics Ltd, for mechanical ventilator development ready for manufacture of 100 units per day.
$828,000, for Orion Health, for a "national algorithm management solution" for Covid-19
$500,000, for Pictor Ltd, for development of a multiplex immunoassay for detection of Covid-19 infection in less than an hour.
$396,000, for SaferMe Limited, business-focused Covid-19 management solutions
$914,500, for The Cacaphony Project Ltd, for Te Kahu Ora "The cloak of health" – a thermal camera human screening device and supporting monitoring platform.
$650,000, for Trinity Bioactives Ltd, for development of novel lateral flow devices for the rapid detection of infection.
$528,927, for Ubiquitome Limited, for enabling and maintaining a Covid-19 free New Zealand with rapidly deployable, community-level Sars-COV2 testing.