Covid-19 ‘breathalyser’ test may be trialled in public places soon
Breathonix is in talks with MOH and 'major hospitality player', hopes to get approval in first quarter next year
Talks are ongoing between the Health Ministry (MOH) and the developers of a Covid-19 "breathalyser" test kit that gives results in less than a minute to see if the test can be deployed in public places in the coming months.
The chairman of National University of Singapore spin-off Breathonix, Associate Professor Neo Kok Beng, said the company is also in talks with a "major hospitality player" here to deploy the test at events such as conferences following approval from the Health Sciences Authority.
It hopes to receive approval in the first quarter of next year.
Prof Neo declined to name the hospitality player. He added that Breathonix has also received some requests from groups overseas for the test to be rolled out there.
For the test, people blow into a disposable mouthpiece that is connected to a breath sampler.
A mass spectrometer analyses the invisible particles called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a person's breath.
A healthy person will have a different VOC signature from someone who is ill, and different illnesses produce different signatures.
The results are generated in under a minute, without the need for the sample to be processed elsewhere.
This makes the breath test more convenient and faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests, which require an external laboratory to process samples, and take a few days for results to be returned.
The results of Breathonix's test are also generated faster than those of antigen rapid tests (ART), which take at least 15 minutes to be known.
The breath test is also non-invasive, in contrast to the PCR tests and ARTs, which require swabs to be inserted into a person's nostrils and have been known to cause discomfort.
At its recent successful trial at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the breath test also managed to pick up asymptomatic patients - although Dr Jia Zhunan, chief executive and co-founder of Breathonix, said further studies are needed.
The breathalyser is less sensitive than a PCR test, but Dr Jia pointed out the breath test is not meant to be a diagnostic one.
"We're not comparing or competing against the PCR test. The breath test is more of a first-level screening device."