UK diagnostics firm announces development of rapid test for the COVID-19 virus

A team of UK biotech experts are close to delivering a sophisticated and affordable testing technology that will complement the simple binary COVID-19 tests currently in use. The technology deploys mass spectrometry to spot proteins that are unique to COVID-19 and is targeting to deliver test results within 30 minutes that can:

  • detect the presence or absence of COVID-19
    • measure viral load, and
    • detect new viral strains as they emerge

The developers say the technology could make a huge contribution to the Government’s plans announced this afternoon (02.04.20) to increase testing capacity and bolster the UK’s diagnostics industry. The MAP Sciences technology could deliver up to 1000 test results per machine over a 24-hour period. The mass spectrometers have low technical user requirements and require minimal consumables. MAP Sciences has experience of optimising mass spectrometers to produce fast, accurate and easy to use diagnostic tests for a range of diseases.

The Cambridge and Bedford based team has been working on a proof of concept using a MALDI ToF mass spectrometer to detect a COVID-19 pseudo-virus and expect to be at a stage to start clinical trials within two weeks. Government collaboration and support will be needed to run clinical trials on the test using COVID-19 live virus.

Professor Ray Iles, chief scientific officer said:
“I’ve spent the past ten years developing the use of MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry to detect a range of diseases by identifying their unique protein signature. Our technology delivers results within minutes and with fine tuning we aim to achieve this on COVID-19 but with far fewer false positives (greater specificity). Once developed this technology can provide a powerful and rapid first line in the control of any future new virus epidemics.”

The President of the Royal College of Pathologists, Prof JE Martin MA PhD RCPathME FRCPath, has described the development work on this test as a “very promising” development in the fight against this deadly virus.

For media enquiries and interview requests with Professor Ray Iles , please contact Julie Kangisser 07711 818 496


About the Technology

The MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry is a clinical diagnostic platform utilising a highly advanced method of protein pattern recognition to diagnose various diseases and health disorders. It uses dedicated  digital data, analysed by AI algorithms and requires only a very small sample (either  blood or  urine or sputum)  to deliver test results within minutes and at an economical cost level. The analysis is data rich and the sample can be re-interrogated with full scanning of all test panels from a single sample. The technology is based on mass spectral profiling of biological fluids in multi-dimensional patterns and delivers:

  • Simultaneous identification of multiple analytes in a single sample run
  • Relative quantification of one analyte against another
  • Easy to collect sample e.g. a blood spot card
  • Fast sample processing (“dilute and shoot”)
  • Relatively low cost of reagents
  • Rapid data generation archived for instant re-interrogation <1 min


Proteomics as a quick, affordable diagnostic tool

The British team are world leaders in an emerging field of science known as proteomics along with the engineering know-how to optimise mass spectrometry technology to enable it to produce comprehensive clinical results from samples in a matter of minutes. The MALDI-ToF mass spectrometer can analyse multiple samples on a single 48 well plate within minutes. The time from sample receipt to result, including sample processing, could be as little as 20 minutes. Each optimised mass spectrometer could generate up to 1000 results per day. The equipment needed is bench top and does not require highly specialist operators, paving the way for a rapid rollout to pathology labs in hundreds of hospitals and strategic locations. It is also likely to require fewer consumables than other COVID-19 tests.

Viral load testing

The ability to test patients and health workers for viral load – or level of virus being carried in blood – will be game-changing. More informed readouts will enable daily testing of NHS workers in order to remove them from duty at the earliest possible opportunity; help pinpoint when NHS staff can return to work; and, enable doctors to discharge patients or release ventilators as soon as it is safe to do so. The test will detect very low levels of virus – well before symptoms occur.


Viral mutations – next wave testing

Current PCR antigen or antibody are not capable of identifying mutations. The process of isolating new viral protein patterns using mass spectrometry could be triggered if hospitals detect pockets of ill health that are not being detected by current COVID-19 tests. New viral mutations could readily be added to all future tests on this platform and even used to identify the presence of viral mutations in any recent tests.


Professor Ray Iles, MAP Diagnostics

Professor Iles’ specific areas of expertise lie in the assessment and measurement of biomarkers in biological fluids. With a BSc in Bioanalysis, an MSc in Immunology, and PhD in Molecular Pathology, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Fellow of the Society for Biology and a Chartered Biologist and the founding Dean of Abu Dhabi University’s College of Health Sciences. Professor Iles is Chief Scientific Officer with the MAP Group that develops leading medical and digital diagnostics.



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