US-based technology incubator Astrotech is developing BreathTest-1000, to screen for volatile organic compound (VOC) metabolites in breath that could indicate lung infections, including Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or pneumonia.

The company had joined forces with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the US Army, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to initially develop its novel mass spectrometry technology that is said to be ideal for lung disease testing applications.

The development of the BreathTest-1000 follows the announcement of positive results for the company’s BreathDetect-1000 pre-clinical trials in June 2017. BreathDetect-1000  is a rapid bedside breathalyzer that detects bacterial infections in the respiratory tract, including pneumonia.

Astrotech chairman and chief executive officer Thomas B Pickens III said that: “With the Coronavirus pandemic impacting millions of families around the globe, we are now very focused on the development of a rugged, inexpensive, quick, and easy to use testing platform that can be deployed to thousands of point-of-care locations worldwide, if approved.

“This is an incredibly scalable solution that is very much needed to screen as many people as possible in the shortest time.”

BreathTest-1000 is a quick screening device used for field applications

Astrotech’s mass spectrometry technology has been designed to be inexpensive, small, rugged, fast, and easy to use for air quality monitoring and trace detection of chemical warfare agents, explosives, and narcotics.

In addition, the technology has been certified by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) and is now deployed in air cargo facilities throughout the European Union.

The company said that its new technology is a field-deployed instrument used at drive-up testing facilities to quickly, under 1 minute, and easily test for the VOCs found in the breath of COVID-19 and pneumonia infected patients, with minimal training required.

Currently, testing requires collection of off-site samples in the field and sending them to centrally located laboratories for testing, which requires several days to ship, process, and get results, making the problem worse while the disease gets spread among the people.

The test using BreathTest-1000 is performed at the point-of-care and the results of screening are obtained almost instantly. The test is not expected to be as precise as laboratory DNA testing but can serve as a quick screening device for field applications, said the company.

Furthermore, the company intends to combine the detection of COVID-19 with the detection of pneumonia into the BreathTest-1000 instrument, subject to necessary regulatory approvals.