The Government of Ontario is purchasing nearly one million portable COVID-19 test kits from Spartan Bioscience, a biotech firm led by a University of Toronto alumnus.

The portable Spartan Cubes, which drew the attention of the federal government last month, can provide results in as little as 30 minutes.

“We think portable, rapid COVID-19 testing will be important to help control the pandemic,” says Paul Lem, CEO of Spartan Bioscience. “It is gratifying to see a made-in-Canada solution helping Canadians.” 

Spartan’s announcement of its plan to provide more than 900,000 kits to Ontario follows news of a $9.5-million contract between Spartan and Alberta Health Services for 250 handheld devices and 100,000 test kits. Both purchases are pending Health Canada approval, with the first shipments expected to arrive next month.

“We think it’s a game changer,” says Lem, who earned his bachelor of science in human biology from U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science in 1998 as a member of University College. He received his medical degree from the University of Ottawa in 2002 before returning to U of T’s medical microbiology residency program.

By adapting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 DNA test to its own Spartan Cube, Spartan Bioscience is bringing portable testing to remote locations across the country – and ultimately around the world.

The Cube is a small box-like device that collects and analyzes DNA without the need to send samples to a traditional lab, making it ideal for in-field diagnostic testing.

“This is our whole reason for existing,” says Lem. “Our mission has always been to bring DNA testing out of the lab and into these portable personal DNA analyzers.”