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NSW-startup Kimiya is developing a homegrown technology platform aimed at making diagnostic testing quick, easy and accessible.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrust the need for rapid diagnostics into the general consciousness, publicly demonstrating that time-to- result can be critical to suppressing outbreaks and minimising associated health, social, and economic impacts.

Kimiya’s efforts are aimed at bringing the benefits of Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) to the frontline. NAT is widely used in centralised testing facilities and considered the gold standard for COVID-19 diagnosis, as well as for many other ailments.

The company’s system is intended to be placed at the point of care, which is particularly useful given the large percentage of Australia’s population that live in rural and remote areas. The aim is for the entire testing process to be conducted within a portable system, with a positive or negative outcome being confirmed within the hour. This would provide a drastic timeline improvement on the current pathology workflows which can take days once transport of samples is taken into account.

Once completed, Kimiya’s technology could provide General Practitioners with the means to quickly identify common conditions and prescribe an accurate course of medicine instead of resorting to broad-spectrum antibiotics while awaiting results.

In addition to slowing the rise of antimicrobial resistance, this means that patients are almost instantly able to begin recovery with a more targeted treatment. It also reduces the demand on the resources of centralised testing facilities as they aren’t constantly processing routine conditions, allowing them to better provide their specialist services to those that need it most.

NAT detects the presence of a target virus or bacteria by investigating whether a sample contains strands of DNA or RNA that are specific to the particular pathogen. In the specific case of COVID-19 for example, the procedure would seek out the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA. If SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA is in the sample, the patient is suffering from COVID-19, if it’s not, the patient is considered clear of the condition.

The NAT approach initially involves taking a sample from the patient, then breaking it down to release genetic material associated with all of the human cells, bacteria, or viruses that are present. Target biomarkers are then replicated to make them easier to find before the mixture is passed through a sensing component that confirms whether they are present or not.

It’s central to the goals of the company’s co-founder, Matthew Worsman, to not just make the product portable enough to install in doctor’s surgeries or remote locations, but also to be simple to use, and provide sample-to-answer results. To do this, they’re utilising ANFF-NSW expertise and capabilities to develop a silicon-based microfluidic architecture that will be at the heart of the company’s technology. The resulting lab-on-a-chip will perform the amplification and detection processes that are key to NAT diagnostics.

Mr Worsman explained, “Given the level of sophistication envisaged, Kimiya has a way to go but with ANFF-NSW support for COVID-19 related development work, the team aims to achieve results to boost the technology readiness level significantly in the coming months.”