GTAA to lead rapid COVID-19 point-of-need testing research
by CM Staff
Research will explore efficiency of rapid PCR and antigen testing, with eligible airport workers and passengers who volunteer to receive COVID-19 testing
TORONTO — The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) announced a new COVID-19 PCR and antigen testing research program at Toronto Pearson. The program, which starts on March 1, is supported in part by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). It is designed to explore the efficacy of antigen testing, compared with the rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, in a high-throughput, commercial environment, as well as the operationalization of rapid PCR testing in an airport environment.
“The GTAA continues to demonstrate its commitment and leadership in the exploration of the science of COVID-19 testing. Science is at the heart of our Healthy Airport commitment and we are pleased to receive this support from NRC IRAP on this additional testing program, as we pursue further innovation here at Toronto Pearson,” said Deborah Flint, President and CEO, GTAA, in a prepared statement. “This research will contribute substantial new scientific data to the body of knowledge used to fight this disease by improving access to testing that will identify, trace and isolate COVID-19.”
The GTAA will work with Fionet Rapid Response Group (FRR), a joint venture between Fio Corporation and Relay Medical Corp, who will deploy its digital workflow, testing, and data infrastructure for execution and oversight of this program.
“We’re privileged to partner with the GTAA to fight back against a pandemic that has devastated lives and economies,” said Dr. Michael Greenberg, CEO of Fionet Rapid Response Group Inc and of Fio Corporation. “FRR and our collaborators, MedeVaq and OnPoint1 Health, are eager to execute this impactful mission made possible by the Government of Canada.”
The GTAA will work with a team of Canadian healthcare companies to run a ten-week antigen test study at Toronto Pearson. The study will make free COVID-19 tests available to employees, as well as testing for eligible passengers on select routes who are willing to volunteer as participants. The study will begin accepting volunteers on March 1. Clinical analysis of test swabs will take place on-site at the airport, using LuminUltra’s rapid PCR test, with results provided to the participant within two hours. Participants will also be tested using Response Biomedical rapid antigen tests. Integration of these testing technologies, passenger processes, and all data flows will be managed by the Fionet Platform.
“The GTAA is one of the City of Mississauga’s strongest partners and this study demonstrates its strong commitment to protecting the thousands of Mississauga residents who work at Pearson, as well as their families,” said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie. “What makes this study particularly important is that its findings could be applicable to other work settings, not only in Mississauga but across Ontario and the entire country. This is yet another example of the GTAA being on the cutting edge of innovation and community safety. I want to thank the GTAA, as well as the Government of Canada, for launching this timely study at Pearson and the Government of Ontario for providing rapid tests.”
A second study will run in parallel to the federally funded study to compare antigen and rapid PCR tests. The second research stream, the Workplace Antigen Testing Study, will explore the viability of frequent antigen testing within a workforce as a method to quickly identify, trace and isolate COVID-19. By testing multiple times per week over multiple weeks, researchers will be able to study how frequent use of antigen tests can improve workplace safety by reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. The study will use Abbot’s Panbio rapid antigen test, provided by the Province of Ontario to conduct this research. The study will draw on the expertise of three renowned Canadian epidemiologists and researchers affiliated with the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Unity Health Toronto: Dr. Kevin Schwartz, Dr. Prabhat Jha and Dr. Isaac Bogoch. Their work at Toronto Pearson will have applications for scaling up rapid testing in other workplace settings. The Workplace Antigen Testing Study will recruit volunteer participants from Toronto Pearson’s airport worker community. Participants will receive multiple antigen tests per week for a period of approximately eight weeks.
“Frequent, rapid testing for screening of asymptomatic people is an important layer among other essential public health measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. We are excited to be supporting the GTAA and their partners in evaluating rapid testing of employees to build on our current knowledge on how to safely and effectively implement these tools,” said Kevin Schwartz, infectious disease physician at Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto.