Sanofi taps Luminostics to develop a smartphone-based COVID-19 test

Sanofi has begun working with California startup Luminostics to build an at-home test for COVID-19 that would use a sample reader powered by a user’s personal smartphone.

Using an adapter that clips over the phone’s camera and flashbulb, Luminostics’ low-cost, reusable device contains chemicals that faintly glow in the dark when certain targets are present. The camera and a downloaded app can then be used to detect bacteria from respiratory swabs or, as Sanofi hopes, the molecular sequences associated with the novel coronavirus.

“The development of a self-testing solution with Luminostics could help provide clarity to an individual—in minutes—on whether or not they are infected,” said Alan Main, head of Sanofi’s consumer healthcare division, which will provide clinical research and testing support to the effort.

The ultimate goal is to provide an over-the-counter test before the end of the year. The two companies said they expect to begin development work in the coming weeks, with a future agreement covering the needed manufacturing capabilities if they are successful. Financial details were not disclosed.

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Separately, the FDA announced that it would recognize spun synthetic swabs—similar to the ubiquitous cotton Q-tip, but made out of polyester—as a potential option for home COVID-19 testing.

These new swabs could be used to gather samples from the front of the nose without needing to access its deeper recesses—a vigorous, painful process that the agency has largely entrusted to trained healthcare professionals over self-use, where a clean nasopharyngeal sample is required for a sensitive molecular test. 

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As of April 17, over 3.4 million people have been tested for the novel coronavirus in the U.S., or just over 1% of the population according to statistics gathered by The Johns Hopkins University, but there are currently no FDA-authorized self-performed or home-based tests available.