Virus testing in Canada, what we’ve learned after one year

While COVID-19 has certainly felt like a long time for many Canadians, the pandemic has enabled the rapid growth of critical tools and technologies – and our team at Precision Biomonitoring has been at the forefront of these innovations since the very beginning. This month marks one-year since the Biomeme SARS-CoV-2 Test was approved by Health Canada. Not only was this an important development in Canada’s response to the pandemic, but it also provided our team with the opportunity to recognize and leverage our role in a collaborative health environment that will benefit Canadian industries, communities and families.

As we continue to evolve in our response to COVID-19, there are many considerations and key learnings to leverage and ensure that we are making the most of the innovations achieved over the past year, such as versatile, rapid testing technology. We must also consider how we foster a future testing environment that deconstructs system silos and enables the collaboration and partnerships that have contributed to the successes in Canada’s COVID-19 response.

Communication – At the onset of the pandemic, virus testing strategies varied greatly across provinces and territories. Limited testing capacity and long wait times for results contributed to a slower rollout of testing programs and created a lot of unknowns for many industries, including critical economic drivers such as mining and natural resources, looking to get employees back to work safely. These issues arose in part due to a lack of communication between key stakeholders including governments, industries and innovators.

Communication and engagement between stakeholders can contribute to innovation and sharing of best practices. There are silos in certain areas of Canada’s healthcare system that endanger the growth of such collaborative innovation. Companies, particularly those who specialize in testing, should be looking to build structures that allow for regular engagement with key stakeholders within their industry and health systems to help advance their technology and ensure it can reach the people who can benefit from it the most.

Precision Biomonitoring identified this challenge early on. At the onset of the pandemic, we drew from our experience in environmental DNA (eDNA), and quickly engaged key stakeholders, including the federal government, to ensure our innovative technologies were meeting Canada’s immediate need for rapid testing support. This focus on communication supported us in the launch of the Biomeme test for the purposes of COVID-19 testing, but more importantly, it helped the technology see a quicker approval and get it into several industries to aid COVID-19 control efforts.

Relationships – Relationship-building has also been a key driver to our success in the innovative testing space since our early pandemic efforts began. Understanding the role that rapid testing would play in supporting Canada’s economy, Precision Biomonitoring fostered relationships with key economic drivers such as mining. For example, in early 2020 gold mining company New Gold was forced into a three-week-long shutdown at its Rainy River site in Northern Ontario that halted all operations and delayed major projects. Like other mining operations, its site requires fly-in-fly-out for some of its full-time employees and contractors, increasing the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission through frequent travel. This posed a threat to the health and safety of the mine’s employees, but also to its surrounding communities, particularly Indigenous groups in this remote region who were not adequately equipped to deal with a major virus outbreak.

Precision Biomonitoring leveraged its strong relationship with New Gold to bring its newly approved Biomeme SARS-CoV-2 rapid, point-of-need test in order to get their employees back to work safely, while also providing surrounding communities with peace of mind; further strengthening New Gold’s relationship with its own neighbours.

Relationships can also play a role in supporting production and distribution of vital testing technology. For example, last year our company drew on our ongoing clinical collaborations with Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, St. Joseph’s Health in Hamilton, and the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. These relationships with key institutions and the NGen helped us secure funding to help in the manufacturing of our TripleLockTM SARS-CoV-2 96-well plates and was pivotal in increasing our distribution across Canada during the pandemic.

Proactivity – COVID-19 has reminded us of the importance of communication and relationship-building to the well-being of Canadian innovation in healthcare. Equipped with these insights and key learnings, we must now ensure that we are being proactive in our efforts moving forward. To prepare for future events of this kind, we need to look ahead and should be working alongside key stakeholders in the healthcare system regularly to keep them informed on what innovative technology is available and better understand how all players can work together to ensure we are making the most of our technological advancements.

Testing technology and processes should also regularly be put on the radar of federal and provincial policy makers and after witnessing the personal, economic and social impact of COVID-19, many in government will be paying closer attention to this aspect of public health. Earlier this month, Precision Biomonitoring hosted the Honourable Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade at our new facility in Guelph. Moving forward, we are looking to regularly engage with government officials to showcase our technology and stay aligned on priorities.

Industries should also look to be proactive in constantly improving the efficacy, quality and safety of their testing technology. As the past few months have proven, no test is perfect and virus variants are a reminder that companies cannot sit back. For example, this month we received an ISO 13485 certificate issued by BSI for the design, development, and manufacturing of our in-vitro diagnostic kits for the detection of viruses and infectious diseases. This certification is not mandatory for COVID-19 devices under the Interim Order, though Precision Biomonitoring sought to attain it to provide our customers with an objective basis for their trust and confidence in the quality of our technology.

It has been a challenging year but one of great learnings that can help us prepare for future major health challenges. Testing technology equips us with the means to protect our communities and safeguard our industries and economy, but it also provides us with information necessary to adapt our approach as situations, like COVID-19, continue to change. This ability to re-adjust and revise our course will continue to strengthen Canada’s response to ongoing and upcoming challenges associated with this pandemic and beyond. Heeding the lessons learned from the past year and a half, through an increased focus on communication, relationships and proactivity, testing technology has the potential to play a pivotal role in protecting the health and safety of Canadians both now and into the future.

Mario Thomas is the President and Chair of the Board at Precision Biomonitoring

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Founded in 2016, Precision Biomonitoring provides industry-leading expertise in molecular direction of organisms. Their very own TripleLock™ technology aims to deliver rapid, on-site environmental, food, animal and human diagnostic testing solutions. Customers are any organizations that need onsite surveillance and rapid identification of any organism in any environment. The Precision Biomonitoring team is at the forefront of technological innovations in the genomics industry. Our vision is a world where we can identify any organism on the spot, in an instant, anywhere on the planet.