15-minute coronavirus test turns fortunes for Cellmid

15-minute coronavirus test turns fortunes for Cellmid

When the share market closed on Friday a little-known Australian life sciences company called Cellmid (ASX: CDY) was in a trading halt after selling at lows not seen since 2009.

The loss-making group has been in the thick of a turnaround strategy that saw its bottom line improve somewhat in the first half of FY20, but investor confidence eroded over the past three months as the Covid-19 crisis took hold. 

That was at least until Friday evening, when a division that normally accounts for just 0.5 per cent of Cellmid's revenue took centre stage.

Diagnostic tests brought in only $18,051 for the company in the last half, dwarfed by the $3.7 million generated by its hair loss brands Jo-Ju and Lexilis along with the évolis-branded range of novel therapies and pharmaceuticals.

But Sydney-based Cellmid had an ace up its sleeve, courtesy of a breakthrough deal with the Australian partner of a Chinese company that developed a rapid diagnostic test for Covid-19.

Just after 7pm on Friday the company announced it had entered a supply agreement for the 15-minute testing kit with Australia Applications, the authorised distributor of Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech.

Australia already has one of the highest testing rates in the world for Covid-19, and if all goes to Cellmid's plan that distinction will be even easier to maintain. 

Requiring only the most basic lab equipment, the test was approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as a point of care test (POCT) on 25 March.

The Wondfo Covid-19 rapid diagnostic tests are stable at room temperature (2-30°C) for up to one year, which Cellmid claims makes them an attractive option for regional testing or for mobile/rapid screening centers, combined with their ease of use.

Cellmid announced it had placed its first order for the test which could be used either as a bedside POCT, in doctors' surgeries, pathology labs or in remote sites administered by healthcare professionals.

Cellmid buys the tests at a fixed price, and notes it has not entered into any agreement to sell them to customers yet.

But the announcement was enough to send investors into a frenzy, with the share price rising from 10 cents to 31 cents yesterday, and at the time of writing today it had reached 38 cents - a level not seen since October 2018.

"Learning from countries that managed the coronavirus infections well it is clear that widespread Covid-19 testing, isolation of those testing positive and early treatment are the best methods to control the spread of infection, while saving lives and medical resources," says Cellmid CEO Maria Halasz.

"We are excited to be able to contribute to Australia's comprehensive effort to manage this pandemic."

The test consists of a small device that requires only 10 microlitres of patient serum or plasma, or 20 microlitres of whole blood, to be loaded into a receptacle, alongside an included buffer which then mixes with viral S protein fragments and migrates along the device to an area of immobilised capture antibodies.

If virus specific IgG or IgM is present, conjugates are formed, which show up as a distinctive red band on the device.

Updated at 12:22pm AEDT on 31 March 2020.

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