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Singapore Trials COVID-19 Breath Test System

Image credit: nus.edu.sg

A locally developed COVID-19 breath test that can generate results within one minute has received provisional authorisation from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in the country’s bid to further mitigate the effects of the pandemic. The BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system was developed by a spin-off company of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and is the first breath analysis system to secure such authorisation in Singapore.

The tech company is now working with the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) to run a deployment trial of their technology at one of the land checkpoints where incoming travellers will undergo screening with the BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system, the tech developer said in a media release. The breath analysis will be carried out alongside the current compulsory COVID-19 antigen rapid test (ART).

The breath test system underwent clinical trials at three locations between June 2020 and April this year. The trials were conducted in Singapore at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Changi Airport, as well as in Dubai, in collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority and the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system works by detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a person’s exhaled breath that are produced by biochemical reactions in human cells. VOC signatures in the breath of healthy people vary from that of people with illnesses, meaning that changes in VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like COVID-19, the tech developers explained. The system was developed from the developers’ cancer detection technology, they added.

The breath test is simple to administer by trained personnel but does not require medically trained staff or laboratory processing. A person only needs to blow into a disposable one-way valve mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler. The exhaled breath is collected and fed into a cutting-edge mass spectrometer for measurement. A proprietary software algorithm analyses the VOCs biomarkers and generates results in less than a minute, the developers discussed.

Also, individuals screened as positive by the breath test will have to undergo a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 swab test.

The tech company was founded by three NUS graduates and is supported by the university’s Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP), which encourages talented NUS graduate students and research staff to establish and run high potential start-ups based on deep technologies.

The tech developers assured the public that their breath test is non-invasive. Users only need to breathe out normally into the disposable mouthpiece provided, so there will not be any discomfort. Cross-contamination is unlikely as the disposable mouthpiece has a one-way valve and a saliva trap to prevent inhalation or saliva from entering the machine.

NUS deputy president of innovation and enterprise said that securing provisional authorisation in Singapore is a major milestone for the tech company, and NUS is very proud of this achievement by their start-up. This adds to the University’s ongoing efforts to help Singapore fight the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple fronts. Also, he noted that testing is key to the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is likely to go on for several years. Mass, repeated testing must be widely adopted as a key public health strategy to support the safe reopening of economies, and Singapore’s home-grown technology hits the right spot. He is confident that their novel technology will make a significant contribution towards protecting the safety and health of Singaporeans and the global community, he added.

NUS and the tech company said that there is strong commercial interest in the BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system, with the company in discussion with several local and overseas organisations to use the Singapore-made system.

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