Grapheal raises €1.9M to develop biosensors and fast digital COVID tests


Grapheal (Grenoble, France) is a Graphene Flagship associate member with experience creating pioneering graphene-based wearable patches for the remote monitoring of chronic wounds. Now, they have raised €1.9M in seed financing from Belgian incubator Novalis Biotech and private investors to further develop this technology, as well as to advance the creation of a digital, high-speed test for COVID-19. Thanks to the high sensitivity of graphene, this novel device would improve screening activities in high traffic areas, such as airports.

Close monitoring of hard-to-heal wounds facilitates quicker responses to infection and could potentially avoid up to half-a-million amputations per year. Previously, Grapheal had used the high sensitivity of graphene to detect the slight chemical changes around wounds. “We integrated graphene on plastic films and into bandages to record biological parameters," explains Vincent Bouchiat, CEO of Grapheal. This technology, dubbed WoundLAB, allows caregivers to monitor wound healing remotely, with prompt alerts if any medical complications arise.

Now, Grapheal has expanded their research to develop graphene-based sensors for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Their device is sensitive enough to detect the virus in saliva samples, which could accelerate the monitoring of the disease and facilitate quick screenings. Combining the sensitivity of graphene with the specificity of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, Grapheal’s TestNPass allows detection in under five minutes.

“Furthermore, the simplicity of our TestNPass technology could accelerate point-of-care solutions,” explains Bouchiat. “Our digital test detects the presence of the coronavirus without the requirement of dedicated reading equipment other than a smartphone or a standard NFC-connected device. Furthermore, this part of the sensor together can be detached, cleaned and used as a biometric RFID pass for accessing controlled areas,” he adds.

Grapheal also focuses on sustainability – their TestNPass device is battery-free, thus minimising electronic waste. Moreover, they managed to keep this device's selling price below 10€ per unit, which is competitive compared with other alternatives to test for COVID-19. “This rapid saliva test for COVID-19 could be a game-changer on our way forward, particularly to recover crowded activities such as concerts, cultural and sporting events, and air travel,” comments Bouchiat.

The TestNPass is already being tested in an observational clinical trial with real samples at the University Hospital of Grenoble, France. Moreover, a further study with a large cohort of patients is envisaged in the coming months, to assess the accuracy and efficacy of the graphene-based COVID-19 test.

“If the clinical trials are successful, the device could reach the market by the end of the year”, explains Cinzia Spinato, Graphene Flagship business developer and member of the Graphene Flagship COVID-19 Working Group. “Graphene-based biosensors and medical devices are attracting more and more investments, as in these markets graphene’s unique features have a great potential to outperform existing technologies and offer outstanding advantages”, she adds.

“This technology seems very versatile as it can be adapted and extended to the detection of other types of viruses, provided that the specific antibodies are rapidly available and implemented into the graphene-based biosensor,” says Alberto Bianco, leader of the Graphene Flagship COVID-19 Working Group.

“The outstanding progress of Grapheal is fantastic news for the Graphene Flagship project, launched by the European Commission in 2013 to accelerate the uptake of graphene technologies,” says Kari Hjelt, head of innovation of the Graphene Flagship. “Furthermore, these technologies will likely become a commercial success soon, surpassing our most optimistic estimates and demonstrating the tremendous potential of graphene and layered materials for biomedical applications and the MedTech industry,” he concludes.

Caption: The simplicity of Grapheal’s TestNPass technology could accelerate point-of-care solutions (photo: Graphene Flagship/Grapheal)

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