Verification and demystification | Macau Business

A Hong Kong-based biotech company has developed a digital platform that can infer the viral load of COVID-19 patients through photos of RAT kits and filter out any cheating practice, a solution that may be relevant for Macau at the moment. light of more cyclical coronavirus outbreaks in the future.


Taking a nasal or oral swab for the nucleic acid test (NAT) or rapid antigen test (RAT) has become a daily routine for everyone in Macau since June 18, when the city saw its worst community outbreak since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago.

Although it only takes RAT about 15-20 minutes to return a result, this testing method is considered less accurate than NAT, which requires hours for samples to be processed in a lab before results are released. are not available. But if RAT is performed regularly with the incorporation of technology to verify results, it could be as sensitive as NAT in identifying positive cases.

A Hong Kong-based biotech company earlier this year launched a digital platform (https://art-quant.com/en) allowing people to upload pictures of their rapid antigen test kits. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the Quantitative Rapid Antigen Testing System – or ART-Quant System – developed by DNA-TECH Limited can infer a COVID-19 patient’s viral load based on shades of lines test on the kits, i.e. the darker the lines, the higher the patient’s viral load level. Different ratings will be assigned to each photo, depending on the intensity of the color of the lines; patients can then be aware of their own viral load progress and recovery journey by uploading photos to the platform every day.

“Many people have to go through mandatory isolation and quarantine without much help from doctors,” says Chris Pang, New Ventures product manager of Hai Kang Life Corporation, DNA-TECH’s parent company. “Without seeing a doctor, our website, which is sort of a telecare platform, can tell them when they’re going to recover.”

“We basically guide and accompany people who are neglected when they are HIV positive,” he continues. “Sometimes you’re fed up with COVID, but you’re treated almost like it’s better to stay away from the population. This is one of the reasons why [ART-Quant] was invented because we can help these people.

Hai Kang Life Corporation, founded in 1999 with research facilities in Hong Kong and Beijing, is now chaired by Albert Cheung Hoi Yu, who is also a professor and vice-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of Beijing in China.

“We basically guide and accompany people who are neglected when they are HIV-positive,” says Chris Pang of Hai Kang Life. “Sometimes you’re fed up with COVID, but you’re treated almost like it’s better to stay away from the population.

Verification

Another key feature of ART-Quant is that its AI technology can spot poor quality photos and photos showing tests that were not done accurately, for example, users don’t expect enough time, like 15 minutes, before taking a picture of the result, or they use other liquids to substitute an oral or nasal sample for the test. “We have verification methods that can reject photos, so people can’t just manually upload anything. We can actually filter out what was done right, what wasn’t done right, and what that looks like cheating,” says Pang.

“[ART-Quant] is useful for organizations and governments,” says Pang. “[In Macau] people upload a photo and have to declare themselves [for RAT], which is an honesty system. What we’re trying to do is we know the honesty system works somewhat, but we can back it up with verification. ”

Since the beginning of the community outbreak in the city on June 18, which has reported more than 1,800 cases so far, authorities have mandated that all Macao residents perform regular RAT almost daily alongside NAT. While the local COVID-19 situation has seemingly stabilized lately, the administration has repeatedly promised “the normalization of anti-COVID efforts” as there may be more COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. future given the more contagious variant of Omicron.

“[In Macau] people upload a photo and have to declare themselves [for RAT], which is an honesty system. What we’re trying to do is we know the honesty system works somewhat, but we can back it up with verification,” says Chris Pang of Hai Kang Life.

Sensitivity

Additionally, during the outbreak since June 18, some Macau residents have expressed concern about queuing for a test at a NAT station across the city when they might be infected amid crowd of people, and demanded that the RAT replace the NAT. But Macao officials dismissed that possibility, pointing out that NAT can identify patients with COVID-19 and thus stop the spread of the virus more efficiently and accurately than RAT.

But Pang offers a counterpoint, saying RAT can be as effective as NAT in locating positive cases, when the former is done regularly with a verification system like ART-Quant. “What we’re really doing in Hong Kong is we’re trying to convince hospitals and the government that if you test every 48 hours or 72 hours, especially in a surge of cases, you’ll find people who are positive. [with RAT]. It is as sensitive as the PCR test [polymerase chain reaction testing],” he says. PCR is a type of NAT used for COVID testing.

“You don’t have to rely 100% on the honesty system and you can detect infectious cases much faster [than NAT],” he continues. “You can also find out what a person’s viral load is [with ART-Quant] and you can prioritize the treatment of patients. You can go to people with a high viral load first.

This is also the point made by the Chairman of Hai Kang Life, Mr. Yu, at the launch of ART-Quant in Hong Kong in March. “The system is cheaper and more efficient than nucleic acid testing performed by healthcare workers [in the public sector]which can help us reduce the burden on the medical system,” he said at the time, as quoted by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post.

Businesses can also adopt this digital platform to track the health status of their employees. For example, two businesses in Hong Kong, including a hair salon and a Chinese restaurant, employed ART-Quant. “Organizations can screen every two or three days, or once a week, as long as they are comfortable with everything,” Pang adds.

Free

This digital platform is now available in four languages ​​- Chinese (Traditional and Simplified Chinese), English, Japanese and Korean – because it is accessible to everyone around the world. “We are basically for anyone who is sick with COVID-19. They only have to donate 1 USD [MOP8] to use it, and once they donate US$1, it’s totally free,” he explains. “When you’re sick with COVID, that’s a negative event, but why not make it a positive event by donating that $1 to humanitarian causes.”

Currently, DNA-TECH also does not charge companies using ART-Quant to monitor employee health. “ART-Quant was invented on the belief that we can create a product that connects us to the post-COVID-19 future,” says the leader. “If we put a price on it now, people won’t get the message that we’re coming from a helping people perspective.”

He also acknowledges that they aim to expand market presence and improve the accuracy of the system – which has an accuracy rate of over 96% in filtering photos – by attracting more people to use the platform without costs. “We want to see growth on our platform, and once we get growth, we’ll start thinking about revenue,” he explains.

According to the firm, ART-Quant has around 6,000 to 8,000 photos of RAT kits to date since its launch. “I think we will definitely grow organically with the cyclic outbreaks of the virus,” he says. “We’re actually looking for a six-digit number [in the number of users], or reach 1 million by the end of the year. I think it is doable.

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