miDiagnostics to pilot innovative, fast COVID-19 PCR testing solutions at Brussels Airport

Brussels Airport - General

Imecs fast PRC-on-chip technology and COVID-19 breath sampler at the basis of breakthrough innovations in Flanders

In the past year miDiagnostics has been working on the development of an ultra-fast PCR test based on imec technology, to detect COVID-19, with a test result in less than 15 minutes. In cooperation with Brussels Airport, this nasal-swab ultra-fast PCR test, as well as the new breath sampler developed by imec and licensed by miDiagnostics, will be tested in practice during a study at the airport’s Test Centre. Imec was able to develop the technology thanks to the support of the Flemish minister of Innovation Hilde Crevits. Passengers who make use of the Test Centre will be offered the possibility to participate in this study, and to have an additional ultra-fast PCR test in addition to their own regular PCR test.

Although, the vaccination programs in Belgium, the EU and beyond, have been fully rolled out, a need for COVID-19 testing remains. When showing symptoms, after high-risk contacts or when required for travel - be it for specific destinations that require a test on top of being fully vaccinated, or the obligated test when returning from non-EU red zones to Belgium. Therefore, the search for innovative solutions, that retain the necessary sensitivity and specificity, but have a much faster turnaround time, and are preferably less invasive, continues.

miDiagnostics now releases an ultra-fast PCR. The test, using a nasal swab, shows similar performance compared to the ‘classic PCR test’, but with a turnaround time of less than 15 minutes, a very short time even compared to the fast PCR tests today with a turnaround time of minimum three hours. This ultra-fast result is possible through miniaturization of the process, with a silicon chip, developed at imec, at the heart of this technology. The temperature cycling needed for DNA replication can be performed 20 times faster than a classical PCR, hence significantly shorten the PCR measurement time. Also, this technology is made highly scalable and requires only a very small instrument for read-out. Production for market launch is ongoing and all critical items are secured.

Furthermore, miDiagnostics is also exploring the compatibility of its ultra-fast PCR test with imec’s breath sampling technology, sampling aerosols and droplets from exhaled breath to screen for COVID-19. This novel technology was developed by imec and is now licensed by miDiagnostics for commercialization.

The sampler is based on imecs unique chip technology that was developed with specific financial support of Flemish minister of Innovation Hilde Crevits and underwent clinical tests at the University Hospital and University of Leuven (KU Leuven). The breath sampling technology is capable of capturing the COVID-19 virus in exhaled air and detecting the viral RNA quickly and reliably.

The ultra-fast PCR-test with nasal swab and the breath sampler will both be tested during a pilot in the Test Centre at Brussels Airport, in collaboration with Test Centre provider Ecolog and onsite lab operator Eurofins Labo Van Poucke.

I’m really grateful for the opportunity Brussels Airport is giving us and allowing us to perform a useability study in a real life setting such as the airport. Together with Ecolog and Eurofins, we will be finetuning the entire workflow and logistics from passenger sampling to the PCR test result. A specifically tailored and customized solution to increase the convenience of traveling in the (post)-pandemic era.” says Katleen Verleysen, CEO miDiagnostics

“As airport, we always put health, innovation and high-quality service to our passengers at the forefront, this is why we are more than happy to collaborate in this pilot with miDiagnostics. Testing remains important for travel, and for our society in general, and the development of this ultra-fast, less invasive PCR test using breath samples, is an important new innovation that will make the testing process even more comfortable and efficient. So I’m truly looking forward to the results of this pilot.” says Arnaud Feist, CEO, Brussels Airport Company

 "The license agreement with miDiagnostics is an important milestone for imec, as it is the first time that we have gone this far in the development of a chip-based solution towards commercialization”, says Luc Van den hove, CEO at imec. “I’m proud that we have succeeded in transforming a promising concept and groundbreaking technology into a functional proof-of-concept. With this proof-of-concept, we can demonstrate -much closer to the market- the added value of our technology, while significantly reducing the time-to-market for our partners.”

“What we see here today is a fantastic example of Flemish innovation policy. Our research investments through imec lead to new technological breakthroughs with which young Flemish companies such as miDiagnostics can create unique products. The interplay between knowledge, research and entrepreneurship provides economic and social added value. With the new rapid tests, we are also making history in testing COVID-19. The development of these tests is therefore of great importance for public health. In this way we will be able to manage this pandemic even better and increase the comfort for people who need to be tested. That is why I am proud that we have been able to support the development and research of imec.” says Flemish Minister of Innovation Hilde Crevits.

The pilot will start on Monday 18 October. All departing passengers that choose the standard PCR test will be able to voluntarily get a second test, either a nasopharyngeal swab or a breath sample, both running on the ultra-fast PCR test. Participating in the study is possible every weekday between 9am and 5pm, for passengers that get their standard PCR test at the Brussels Airport Covid-19 Test Centre on departures level. Participants will receive a gift voucher as a thank you for participating in the testing pilot.

Currently the Covid-19 Test Centre at the airport receives on average 1,500 passengers per day, arriving and departing combined. In the past year, since the opening in September 2020, over half a million people have gotten tested at Brussels Airport.