Fredericton's LuminUltra was already a global leader in wastewater testing for environmental and industrial monitoring before the pandemic. When COVID-19 struck, the company knew it could help. It quickly shifted focus, applying its technology to public health—with support from the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
NRC IRAP provided advisory services and funding support for LuminUltra to adapt and scale up its manufacturing processes. Additional assistance was provided by NGen (the non-profit leading Canada's Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster) and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The support provided to LuminUltra included installing automated robotic lines and building a new facility to meet Health Canada regulations. NRC IRAP also helped bring more Canadian-made materials into the company's supply chain, avoiding import-related delays and disruptions.
LuminUltra now has the capacity to produce 10 million qPCR test kits every week, including clinical, environmental and wastewater tests for detecting COVID-19. The wastewater tests enable critical biosurveillance that will provide the earliest signs that a new variant has arrived in Canada. Infected people shed the virus in their stool well before symptoms start, so wastewater tests can reveal COVID-19's presence in communities days before the virus appears in clinical nasal swab tests. LuminUltra's kits can be used to test municipal sewer systems and also those in long-term care facilities, factories, airports, cruise ships, prisons and other locations.
LuminUltra's test is highly portable and can be performed on site rather than having to be sent to a lab for analysis. That means results are available in just hours—making testing more accessible to remote communities that are at higher risk of COVID-19.
Similar to the support provided to LuminUltra, NRC IRAP worked with a number of other Canadian SMEs to further their diagnostic testing capabilities to support Canada's pandemic response. Several of the testing solutions have received Health Canada authorization and are now on the market for use.
"[This technology] is a true game changer that opens up the possibility of testing for COVID-19 in wastewater throughout Canada, including remote communities."