The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has visited a Hartlepool-based electronics firm that specialises in providing high quality electronics who are manufacturing a ground-breaking COVID-19 testing machine that provides results in around 20 seconds.
TT Electronics and the Virolens device, designed by UK start up i-Abra, have been backed by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen who has provided £980,000 in funding, enabling the company to invest nearly £4 million to manufacture the new testing device at their facility on Brenda Road.
In anticipation of potential end customers converting expressions of interest into firm orders for the device, TT is upgrading the Hartlepool manufacturing facility by expanding the site and adding state of the art assembly lines. The investment will create over 100 permanent jobs, doubling the workforce to over 200 staff.
Virolens is a breakthrough technology in virus detection combining holographic microscopy and Artificial Intelligence (AI) software to analyse the resultant images. A saliva sample is taken using an oral swab. The saliva sample is smeared on a sample slide and images are captured using holographic microscopy techniques. In the case of a positive COVID-19 sample these images contain unique diffraction patterns created by each SARS-CoV-2 virus. The AI software has been trained to look for and count these patterns. The device delivers a yes/no result in around 20 seconds.
Trials have shown that the system has the required efficacy to be given the go-ahead by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The next step will be to secure the necessary requirements specifically designed for new Covid-19 testing equipment, before widespread deployment in the UK as well as in other countries, where the technology is already available.
Mayor Houchen said: “Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool have been at the forefront of the battle against this virus.
“Our research organisations like CPI in Redcar have helped global pharmaceutical companies develop and improve their vaccine manufacturing processes and Fujifilm Diosynth will soon be manufacturing 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine at their world-class manufacturing facility in Billingham. Now TT Electronics are leading the way by helping to design and manufacture the ground-breaking rapid testing equipment that has the accuracy of lab tests.
“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic I have had two over-riding priorities - protecting the health and wellbeing of local people, and safeguarding jobs, businesses and livelihoods.
“Over the last 12-months we’ve provided over £16million of support to local businesses, including dedicating millions of pounds through my Welcome Back and Back to Business Funds. Helping our pubs, restaurants, hotels, venues, and museums open back up as quickly and as safely as possible after the first lockdown was lifted. Backing our amazing local businesses and supporting thousands of local jobs. I’ve provided £1million to create 100 apprenticeships through my Emergency Apprenticeship Fund and last November £16.5million of support was made available for the creative sector across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.”
Charlie Peppiatt, Executive Vice President at TT Electronics, said: “Virolens has been brought from a concept to a MHRA registered device in just 11 months. As the exclusive manufacturing partner, TT has supported British start-up iAbra throughout the design and development phase and I am delighted that production will be delivered from our Hartlepool operation which has been a key employer in the region for over 30 years.
“This project is a prime example of using our engineering expertise to develop products in collaboration with our customers. TT’s leading-edge technologies and flexible manufacturing capabilities provide significant support to the critical aspects of Virolens, enabling the device to be brought to market quickly in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Virolens has the potential to be a major step forward in dealing with the impact of the pandemic, by allowing safer access to places of work, transport and events. We were delighted to welcome the Chancellor and Mayor Houchen on site. It gave us the opportunity to discuss ways to work with Government to unlock the potential of this technology for the benefit of us all across the UK.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak said: “I was delighted to visit TT Electronics to see the excellent work they are doing, particularly on the Covid-19 testing device, Virolens.
“They have been backed with investment by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen as another example of the support he has given businesses across the area.
“He has consistently provided vital support to businesses like TT Electronics during the past 12 months with a range of funds designed to not just help firms get through this pandemic, but look ahead to the future and how they can build back better.
“His hard work and championing of the region are also a large part of the reason the Government has decided the area needs a Freeport here and the 18,000 jobs it will bring as well as the new Treasury campus coming to Darlington.”
“It is why people should vote for him on May 6, so he can continue to his hard work to improve the Tees Valley.”