Israeli company announces identification of COVID-19 indicators in breath test  

NextGen says it’s moving closer to developing a reliable test that would be faster and cheaper than the PCR tests currently in use

Israel's Scentech Medical hopes to create a breath test to sniff out the coronavirus (YouTube screenshot)
Israel's Scentech Medical hopes to create a breath test to sniff out the coronavirus (YouTube screenshot)

Israeli pharmaceutical company NextGen Biomed announced it has successfully identified a number of initial indicators of biological markers that could allow it to map traces of COVID-19 in the breath and lead to the creation of a breathalyzer test to identify the virus.

The announcement by NextGen is the result of a study announced in April by Israeli Scentech medical, a Tel Aviv-based company specializing in breath-test diagnostics. NextGen’s stock jumped 35 percent after a merger with Scentech was announced.

In April, Scentech said the trial would analyze the breath of 50-60 coronavirus patients of different ages and medical conditions from Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, and compare them with the breath of healthy subjects. The results would then be verified by using 100-200 ill and healthy soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force, with the hopes of using the breath to identify ill patients with an accuracy rate of at least 85%.

NextGen announced that the two-part study had successfully identified certain gas compounds in the breath linked to the coronavirus and that the findings were in line with other independent scientific studies, the financial daily Globes reported Sunday.

In response to the findings, Scentech CEO Drew Morris said, “We are very encouraged by the success in identifying the indicators and moving closer to completing initial performance biomarkers and the start of broader research for swift testing using breakthrough technology.

“We hope to produce a test which is reliable, and significantly cheaper and more rapid than today’s existing tests including PCR,” he said, according to Globes.


Verification of the findings will reportedly begin in the coming weeks in an effort to create an accurate breath test for coronavirus.

Before COVID-19, Scentech was developing the technology to try to identify cancer and infectious diseases via analysis of breath — searching for their biomarkers in the thousands of different gases present in each exhalation, according to Dr. Udi Cantor, a general and urological surgeon who is the medical director of the coronavirus study.

The process uses gas chromatography, a lab technique to separate and analyze compounds in gases; mass spectrometry, a technique used to determine the elemental signatures of particles and molecules; and a ReCIVA breath collecting device.

These techniques can analyze the some-8,000 volatile organic compounds present within each breath, which play an active part in eliminating body waste, in a similar way to urine, sweat or stools, Cantor said.

Illustrative: A United Hatzalah medical worker wears protective clothing as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, leaving after testing a patient with symptoms of COVID-19 in Jerusalem on October 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Many of these gases have a known signature, he said, but there are still many of them that are unknown. The idea is to use an analytical elimination process to separate the known from the unknown compounds and then narrow the process down to find the elusive coronavirus biomarker.

The UK company ANCON Medical, which also specializes in breath-test diagnostics, has also been developing a COVID-19 breath test and began trials in UK hospitals in August, according to the Daily Mail.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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