From masks to tests, Calgary companies stepping up in COVID-19 fight

WATCH ABOVE: Calgary businesses are taking note of the rising COVID-19 case counts, and are stepping up to help. Adam MacVicar reports.

From versatile rapid testing to made-at-home mask production, two Calgary businesses have pivoted their business plans to provide help as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Alberta.

First Defence has been a distributor based in Calgary since 2015, and spent the early days of the pandemic importing medical supplies for organizations and companies that were beginning to adjust to the new normal.

However, CEO and founder Beau Taylor noticed there were very few companies manufacturing medical supplies in Canada.

“That’s kind of where the vision started,” Taylor said.

“How can we bring that supply chain back to Canada, where we’re employing hundreds of Canadians and bringing that money back to the Canadian economy.”

First Defence then pivoted part of its business model to start manufacturing masks, using materials sourced locally in Alberta.

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According to Taylor, the masks’ filters are sourced through a company in Edmonton.

“Over the next couple of months, our plan is to bring even more of that supply: your earloops, the nose piece — those parts of the mask to be produced right here in Alberta,” Taylor said.

The company now produces 100,000 masks daily, with a goal of increasing production to half-a-million masks per day.

The effort is expected to create 150 jobs and bring more than $7 million to Alberta’s economy, Taylor said.

“That’s from the different raw materials that are being put into the mask, down to us producing them right here in Calgary,” he said.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said a number of businesses have been forced to pivot their business models due to disruption and uncertainty throughout the pandemic.

“Many have pivoted to offer their services online, found means to support their customers in creative ways and have demonstrated resiliency and adaptability,” the organization said in a statement.

“While we have seen businesses close, the entrepreneurs behind them have creativity, know-how and grit, and we must do whatever we can to support them.”

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Calgary-based CardiAI Inc. also shifted its model to develop a rapid COVID-19 test.

The lab has been in operation for two years and develops technology to diagnose heart failure and other medical ailments.

“In the last four to five months, we were able to retool and redeploy our technology and get a COVID(-19) test out,” said CardiAI Inc. founder and cardiologist Dr. Anmol Kapoor.

According to Kapoor, the test CardiAI Inc. developed has the potential to increase Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 testing capacity from 15,000 to 100,000 tests per day.

The company has created Covilamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification), a COVID-19 test that uses temperature regulation to speed up the processing of a test result to about 30 minutes.

According to Kapoor, that’s because the Covilamp test process uses an “isothermal nucleic acid amplification technique,” which processes tests at a constant temperature, while the provincial test uses technology that alternates temperatures throughout the testing process.

Kapoor said the test is faster, cheaper and more accurate than the COVID-19 tests currently in use by AHS, and can detect COVID-19 in patients whether they are asymptomatic or showing symptoms.

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“When we tell you your test is negative, you can have confidence that you are negative,” he said.

“But when (AHS) tells you you’re negative, you might not have confidence because their viral load is set at a higher threshold than our test, which can pick up a viral load that’s much lower.”

According to Kapoor, Covilamp can also use testing equipment already used by AHS, which wouldn’t add any cost for the province.

“It’s very cheap to deploy. They don’t need to buy expensive equipment. They have whatever they have,” he said.

“The test would work with that equipment, and help expedite testing for all of us so we could then get ahead of it.”

According to AHS, CardiAI has met with health officials and Alberta Precision Laboratories, and discussions have taken place about potentially helping with clinical verification for the testing technology.

“Like any new medical tests, Cardiai’s Covilamp system will need to receive the necessary approvals from Health Canada and accreditation from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in order to be implemented as part of the provincial COVID-19 testing program,” AHS spokesperson James Wood said in a statement.

“Right now, we are finalizing our evaluations of the rapid testing systems that have been approved by Health Canada and provided to provinces and territories by the federal government.

“We are still determining how best to deploy them as part of the provincial COVID-19 testing program, and expect to begin piloting the use of these two different systems in the coming weeks.”

Kapoor has offered to deliver tests as a pilot project for AHS but  said he has not heard back.

As Alberta recorded another record-breaking day for new COVID-19 cases, Kapoor said the key to solving the issue of overcapacity at hospitals and in the ICU is more testing.

“We need to be doing more testing to catch more people if you want to get ahead of the virus,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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