A testing scandal

Newsroom has a story that is almost beyond belief:

His company, Ubiquitome, which is 20 percent owned by Otago Innovation, was launched in 2014. In the early months of the pandemic it received more than half a million dollars in development funding from MBIE’s Covid Innovation Accelerator fund and more than $2 million from a similar fund set up in the US to advance Covid-19 testing technology.

“We were primed and ready [with the testing technology], and the MBIE and US funding allowed us to get meaty Covid work going,” Pickering says. 

“We developed a hand-held device and the app that supports it, and we are contract manufacturing it here in [the Auckland suburb of] Rosedale, with sales overseas and a growing group of organisations including Napier Port, Winston Pulp International, Endoscopy Auckland and Te Whānau O Waipareira using it to for Covid variants.”

The lab-in-a-box 16 device can be deployed at a company, school, hospital, marae or even an apple orchard, Pickering says, and run up to 30 saliva PCR tests at a time. Results come back within 90 minutes and can be sent to a mobile phone through the Ubiquitome app. One unit and the associated lab materials costs around $10,000, although it’s cheaper if you buy more units.

The technology has ISO international quality certification, and US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. Ubiquitome has a partnership with the Yale School of Public Health. It has the effectiveness of a PCR test, with the flexibility of a rapid antigen test, Pickering says. 

And it’s not available for use in New Zealand – at least not officially.

“We went to the Ministry of Health in 2020 and said ‘The Government funded this, it was extraordinarily prescient, and it’s ready and working for you.’ The feedback was along the lines of: ‘We don’t have time, we are too busy, we are focusing on the Covid response.”

So we have a NZ company with a mobile testing device that was part funded by MBIE, yet the Ministry of Health wouldn’t even look at it!

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