Israel’s Iron Dome deviser prepares to tackle COVID-19, with 100,000 daily tests

Danny Gold, who oversaw Israel’s best-known missile defense system, has four teams working on 60-second kits for detecting coronavirus

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Iron Dome inventor Dr. Danny Gold (Flash90)
Iron Dome inventor Dr. Danny Gold (Flash90)

The former senior IDF officer who was the driving force behind the Iron Dome missile defense system, is working to facilitate 100,000 coronavirus tests a day across Israel by utilizing new express kits, he said Thursday.

“We want to get to a target of results in 30 seconds or one minute, which is a breakthrough, and get to 100,000 tests a day which is a world game-changer,” said Brig. Gen. (Res.) Daniel Gold, head of Israel’s Defense Research and Development Directorate (DRDD).

While only around 2,000 Israels are currently infected with coronavirus, health officials fear a second wave, and believe that widespread testing will be key to keeping it in check.

Ben Gurion University announced earlier this month that its researchers are working to check the viability of a one-minute test, but it wasn’t known that this was one of several Israeli teams working under the DRDD, the Defense Ministry innovation arm, on express testing.

Magen David Adom staff performing coronavirus testing (Photo: Magen David Adom Israel)

Discussing testing during a webinar, Gold said: “We are on the way. We have about four groups that are working on this.”

Gold described how the DRDD entered uncharted territory at the start of the pandemic, deploying 100 staff to find ways of helping the medical profession — including by visiting hospitals and repurposing defense technology to assist doctors.

An Iron Dome Missile Battery near Tel Aviv, on the first day of Operation Protective Edge, July 8, 2014. (Photo by Flash90)

Gold said that the push to invent new coronavirus tests also involves deployment of defense expertise, though he didn’t provide details. “We take startups, whether from defense or the commercial [sector], and tune them to this,” he said. “We’re trying to detect the virus from the samples using radiation, electronics and chemical [means], and not biological means that are used today.” Currently, most testing involves taking swabs from a patient, and having the ribonucleic acid extracted and analyzed.

During the webinar, CybertechLive Asia, Gold spoke of technology that “can sense what is going on in Israel” to warn of possible future spikes in coronavirus cases using big data and help inform decisions on lockdowns — though he didn’t discuss how the system gathers its information.

“You can see a heat map where the corona is going to spread, when it’s going to spread, in what geographic location, at what time,” he said. “You can even cut it by what ages and other demographic parameters and you can plan where to close, who to release, what to do.”

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