Portable tests for people infected with coronavirus which take seconds could be just a few months away after an Anglo-Dutch biotech start-up secured financial backing.

ViroTact is adapting its “smart molecule” technology used to detect bacteria in the food and healthcare sectors, to develop a fast Covid-19 test.

The company, which is based near Ipswich and in the Netherlands, has secured funding thought to value it at up to £10m from Dutch venture capital firm Carduso, and John Molina, of US medical business Molina Healthcare.

The money is being used to accelerate pre-clinical trials of the “CoviTact” smart molecule detection system to a point where the business has comprehensive data to prove its reliability. At this point the company aims to partner with a pharma giant which can industrialise it.

The system works by the molecule reacting to an enzyme excreted by coronavirus. This reaction can be identified using near-infrared light in a portable detector.

Unlike other tests for the disease, ViroTact’s system does not require a swab. Instead, a sample of saliva is put in small vial containing the molecule, and this is placed in the detector.

Joost Gazendam, a former trauma surgeon who founded ViroTact and is chief executive, said: “Our system does not give false positives from things like flu and can measure viral loads. It already has a high accuracy and we are just fine-tuning the molecule.”

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