There’s a vast difference these days between what is and what should have been for Paul Lem, the founder of Spartan Bioscience of Ottawa.
Three months ago, his company secured Health Canada’s emergency use approval for the Spartan Cube — a portable lab-in-a-box that tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The Cube produces results in less than an hour, compared to days for tests done through laboratories.
Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and the federal government promptly ordered nearly two million test cartridges and the Cube devices that process them — approaching $200 million worth of potential business with more to follow, all of it contingent on the performance of the initial samples.
Lem reckoned Spartan would be shipping hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test cartridges every week by mid-July.
Instead, he finds himself deep in limbo. On May 1, Health Canada advised him Spartan’s proprietary swab wasn’t picking up sufficient quantities of the virus DNA to ensure accurate readings, a not uncommon problem with testing technologies that rely on relatively non-invasive swabs, as is the case with the Cube.