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Kromek adapts detection technology to spot COVID-19 in the air

A North East company specialising in biological threat detection is adapting its air monitoring technology to detect COVID-19.

Kromek has received £1.25 million from Innovate UK to customise its pioneering system for automated detection of all airborne pathogens, including coronavirus.

The news follows the publication of the Sedgefield-based company’s half-year results for the six months ending October 31, 2020.

The results showed that interim revenues for H1 2020/21 declined by 13 per cent year-on-year to £4.6 million.

Company bosses said the decline was the result of halted deliveries and reduced manufacturing capacity during the first national lockdown last spring.

Kromek CFO Paul Farquhar said: “In overall terms, we were relatively pleased with the financial outcome for the period given the backdrop.”

Despite the loss of revenues, EBITDA-adjusted losses were contained to just £0.9 million, up from £0.6 million last year.

Business conditions improved towards the end of the period as customer activity picked up and CZT furnaces were fired back up into production mode.

“The demand we saw towards the end of the first half of the year has continued,” said Paul.

Alongside the £1.25 million Innovate UK funding, Kromek has secured an additional £5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) – a long-term customer of the group.

This will support efforts to adapt and deploy Kromek’s biological threat detection solution in high-footfall locations such as airports, hospitals, retail outlets and entertainment venues so that it can rapidly test for the presence COVID-19 in the air.

By detecting the virus in the air in real time, rather than solely relying on the testing of individuals, the system will enable earlier identification of potential infection exposure to help reduce transmission.

The base technology for the system is fully developed and Kromek is working with potential customers to develop deployment models and identify how it can best fit their needs.

Kromek CEO Arnab Basu said: “The capability that we are developing is an air monitoring system that analyses air to present the full pathogenic content.

“There is nothing in the world that exists like this.

“We are going to start piloting this project locally from March onwards and the ultimate aim is detecting everything that is going on.

“The same system, which we will initially use for COVID detection in the very short term, by the end of this calendar year, will be capable of identifying any virus.

“It’s a unique capability we are bringing to the world which will hopefully be a useful tool to help us live safely after this.

“It will also be a North East technology.”