Breathonix BreFence™ Go COVID-19 Breath Test System

SINGAPORE: A locally developed COVID-19 breath test that can generate results within one minute has received provisional authorisation from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

The BreFence™ Go COVID-19 breath test system was developed by Breathonix, a spin-off company of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and is the first breath analysis system to secure such authorisation in Singapore.

“Breathonix is now working with the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) to run a deployment trial of their technology at one of the land checkpoints where incoming travelers will undergo screening with the BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system,” NUS and Breathonix said in a media release on Monday (May 24).

The breath test system underwent clinical trials at three locations between June 2020 and April this year.

The trials were conducted in Singapore at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Changi Airport, as well as in Dubai, in collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority and the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The BreFence™ Go COVID-19 breath test system works by detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a person’s exhaled breath that are produced by biochemical reactions in human cells.

VOC signatures in the breath of healthy people vary from that of people with illnesses, meaning that changes in VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like COVID-19, NUS and Breathonix said.

The system was developed from Breathonix’s cancer detection technology.

“The breath test is simple to administer by trained personnel but does not require medically trained staff or laboratory processing,” NUS and Breathonix said.

Breathonix co-founder Wayne Wee demonstrates the use of the BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system. (Photo: Reuters)

“A person only needs to blow into a disposable one-way valve mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler.

“The exhaled breath is collected and fed into a cutting-edge mass spectrometer for measurement.

“A proprietary software algorithm analyses the VOCs biomarkers and generates results in less than a minute.”

Individuals screened as positive by the breath test will have to undergo a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 swab test.

Breathonix was founded by three NUS graduates, Dr Jia Zhunan, Mr Du Fang and Mr Wayne Wee Shi Jie, together with Dr Jia’s PhD adviser Professor T Venky Venkatesan.

It is supported by the university’s Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP), which “encourages talented NUS graduate students and research staff to establish and run high potential start-ups based on deep technologies”.

“Our breath test is non-invasive,” said Dr Jia who is the CEO of Breathonix.

“Users only need to breathe out normally into the disposable mouthpiece provided, so there will not be any discomfort.

“Cross-contamination is unlikely as the disposable mouthpiece has a one-way valve and a saliva trap to prevent inhalation or saliva from entering the machine.”

Dr Jia Zhunan (left) and Mr Du Fang (centre) of Breathonix with National University of Singapore (NUS) deputy president of innovation and enterprise Professor Freddy Boey. (Photo: NUS)

NUS deputy president of innovation and enterprise Professor Freddy Boey said that testing is key to the global recovery from COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic is likely to go on for several years. Mass, repeated testing has to be widely adopted as a key public health strategy to support the safe reopening of economies, and Breathonix’s home-grown technology hits the right spot,” said Prof Boey, who also leads the GRIP team.

“I’m confident that their novel technology will make a significant contribution towards protecting the safety and health of Singaporeans and the global community.”

NUS and Breathonix said that “there is strong commercial interest in the BreFence™ Go COVID-19 breath test system”, with the company in discussion with a number of local and overseas organisations to use the system.