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From masks to tests, Calgary companies are battling the COVID-19 battle

From versatile quick tests to making masks for the home, two Calgary companies have shifted their business plans to provide assistance as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Alberta.

A Calgary-based distributor since 2015, First Defense spent the early days of the pandemic importing medical supplies for organizations and businesses that were gradually beginning to adjust to the new normal.

However, CEO and founder Beau Taylor noted that there are very few companies in Canada that manufacture medical supplies.

“That’s how the vision began,” said Taylor.

“How can we bring this supply chain back to Canada, where we employ hundreds of Canadians and put that money back into the Canadian economy?”

First Defense then turned part of its business model to begin making masks, using materials sourced locally in Alberta.

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According to Taylor, the mask filters are sourced from a company in Edmonton.

“In the next few months we plan to bring more of this supply: your earloops, the nose piece – the parts of the mask that will be made right here in Alberta,” said Taylor.

The company now produces 100,000 masks a day with the goal of increasing production to half a million masks a day.

The effort is expected to create 150 jobs and gross more than $ 7 million for the Alberta economy, Taylor said.

“That’s because of the various raw materials that go into the mask until we make it here in Calgary,” he said.

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The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said a number of companies had been forced to change their business models due to disruption and uncertainty during the pandemic.

“Many have focused on offering their services online, found the means to support their customers in creative ways, and demonstrated resilience and adaptability,” the organization said in a statement.

“While we’ve seen companies close, the entrepreneurs behind them have creativity, expertise and commitment and we must do everything we can to support them.”

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Calgary-based CardiAI Inc. has also changed its model to develop a rapid COVID-19 test.

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The laboratory has been in operation for two years and develops technologies for diagnosing heart failure and other medical diseases.

“In the last four to five months we have been able to upgrade and re-deploy our technology and perform a COVID (-19) test,” said CardiAI Inc. founder and cardiologist, Dr. Anmol Kapoor.

According to Kapoor, the test developed by CardiAI Inc. has the potential to increase Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 testing capacity from 15,000 to 100,000 tests per day.

The company has developed Covilamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification), a COVID-19 test that uses temperature control to speed up the processing of a test result to around 30 minutes.

According to Kapoor, this is because the Covilamp testing process uses an “isothermal nucleic acid amplification technique” that processes tests at a constant temperature, while the provincial test uses technology that changes temperatures throughout the testing process.

Kapoor says the test is faster, cheaper, and more accurate than the COVID-19 tests currently used by AHS, and can detect COVID-19 in patients whether they are asymptomatic or showing symptoms.

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“If we tell you your test is negative, you can be confident that you are negative,” he said.

“But if (AHS) tells you that you are negative, you may not have confidence because your viral load is set to a higher threshold than our test, which can accommodate a viral load that is much lower.”

According to Kapoor, Covilamp can also use test equipment already in use by AHS, which would not add any additional costs to the province.

“It is very cheap to provide. No need to buy expensive equipment. They have everything they have, ”he said.

“The test would work on this device and it would help speed up the testing for all of us so that we can move forward.”

CardiAI has met with health officials and Alberta Precision Laboratories, according to the AHS, and discussions have been held about whether they may be able to help with clinical review of the testing technology.

“As with all new medical tests, Cardiai’s Covilamp System must have the required approvals from Health Canada and the accreditation from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Alberta to be performed under the provincial COVID-19 testing program,” said AHS spokesman James Wood said in a statement.

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“We are currently finalizing our evaluations of the rapid test systems approved by Health Canada and made available by the federal government for provinces and territories.

“We are still deciding how best to use them as part of the province’s COVID-19 testing program and expect to begin piloting the use of these two different systems in the coming weeks.”

Kapoor has offered to run tests as a pilot for AHS but said he hadn’t heard about it.

As Alberta had another record day for new COVID-19 cases, Kapoor said the key to solving the problem of overcapacity in hospitals and intensive care units is more testing.

“We need to do more testing to catch more people if you want to be one step ahead of the virus,” he said.

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