The founder of DnaNudge has said his company is making no profit from selling its lab-on-chip Covid-19 tests to NHS hospitals, despite the continued effort involved in scaling up its production to meet demand.

The company’s original proposition was based on harnessing DNA to “nudge” its customers towards nutritional choices that can help reduce their risk of developing certain diseases – but during the pandemic it has pivoted the technology to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

Earlier this month, DnaNudge entered into a deal with manufacturer Jabil Healthcare to produce 1.4 million CovidNudge test cartridges per month by early 2021 – but company founder and CEO Regius Professor Chris Toumazou FRS, FREng, FMedSci told NS Medical Devices the units are being sold to NHS hospitals at cost price.

“The sooner we get into the private sector the better, because as a company we’re not making money at all from this product,” he said.

“We’ve sold it at cost to the NHS as a philanthropic thing, but our consumer business is suffering because we haven’t put the resources into that.

“I could have said no, I’ll just stick to my DnaNudge and get on with that, but hey, there’s a pandemic and we’ve got to save lives.

dnanudge covid-19 tests
DnaNudge CEO Chris Toumazou is Regius Professor of Engineering at Imperial College (Credit: Thomas Angus, Imperial College London)

“I’m hoping the reputation we get from doing this will enable us in the future to scale in the private sector, where we can charge a bit more and make something out of it.”

The CE marked CovidNudge testing kit from DnaNudge produces a result in 90 minutes with an average sensitivity of 95% and specificity of 100% – putting it close to the accuracy of the “gold standard” RT-PCR lab test most commonly used to diagnose Covid-19.


International demand for DnaNudge Covid-19 tests

The deal with Jabil will allow DnaNudge to fulfil the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) order for 5.8 million rapid CovidNudge test kits, announced by the government on 3 August.

But while his focus remains on increasing testing capacity in the UK, Toumazou said this hasn’t stopped other countries from taking an interest in the CovidNudge proposition.

“Ever since the announcement went out, governments from all over the world have been emailing us.

“Our problem is supply. It’s being able to ramp up fast enough to deliver something like this to the masses.

“At the moment our focus is the NHS, and then maybe private healthcare.”


Toumazou eyes market to test for non-Covid related diseases

Toumazou hopes the utility of his product will open the door for future sales made to healthcare institutions looking to use DnaNudge’s IVD capabilities to rapidly test for non-Covid related diseases.

“You can have different chips for different applications, so in the consumer health business I’ve got the chip for nutrition, vitamins and cosmetics.

“In the IVD business, we can look at the primers for tropical diseases, STDs or even the BRCA genes associated with breast cancer.

“For sustainability in the hospital sector, that’s another business model that we will try and capitalise on.”