Kiwi-designed COVID-19 antibody test could open borders again

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

Newshub: 27 January 2021 | A new Kiwi-designed test for immunity to COVID-19 has the potential to open up the world's borders again.

Scientists from the Orbis Diagnostics team have come up with a test for COVID-19 antibodies.

Working in the basement at Auckland University, the Orbis team adapted the disks they used to test for a certain cow hormone to instead test for COVID-19 antibodies - people's immunity.

"Basically yes, we were working on a way that farmers could inseminate a cow at really the right time," Orbis Diagnostics chief technical officer Matheus Vargas told Newshub.

Known as a serology test - it currently uses a vial of blood that's processed in specialised laboratories and takes days.

"We were able to transfer the precision and accuracy of a laboratory to the point of need," Vargas said.

That point of need is the border - MIQ facilities and airports.

With a fingerprick of blood, a traveller can find out whether they are immune. If they are, there's no need to isolate for 14 days.

"Our goal is to measure 15 people in 15 minutes and we are really close to getting this goal," Vargas said.

The inventors have struck a deal with a French multinational company Idemia to roll out the test in managed isolation facilities and airports.

Orbis has done its work on blood in the lab, but now they need one last trial.

They're asking the government for 12 weeks access to people in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says they're open to scientific breakthroughs.

"We are always looking at what we can do to help speed up some of the scientific breakthroughs that might be really helpful," he says.

Orbis says it's urgent as immunity in people who have had COVID only lasts eight months, and it's unknown how long vaccines remain effective.

But it could mean the world is open for business again.