Two Saskatchewan firms team up to provide additional COVID-19 testing

Saskatoon-based Quantum Genetix and Nobel HSSE Management Ltd., based in Oxbow and Regina, are teaming up to provide supplementary COVID-19 testing capacity within Saskatchewan.

The fee-for-service testing is being aimed at companies who are looking toward testing for their workforce, people who are about to travel internationally and need a negative COVID-19 test, or members of the public who are asymptomatic and are seeking a quicker testing option than that offered through the provincial health system, which prioritizes people with symptoms.

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Shirley Galloway, president and chief nursing officer of Nobel, said they will be offering the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is the same “gold-standard” level of testing used by the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory.

This particular service is not offering the antigen quick test at this time. That test looks for antigens, and provides results very quickly, but can have a high false negative rate. That means negative tests on the antigen test must still be confirmed by a PCR test like the one they will be offering.

“This is lab-based testing,” she said by phone from Oxbow. Even a small amount of the virus’ RNA can be detected.

Quantum Genetix will be providing the lab testing and reporting, while Nobel will be doing the field collection, using qualified medical professionals in full personal protection garb to collect samples. These are the same swab-up-the-nose tests, known as nasopharyngeal swab collection, done by the health system. Galloway said they have testers for Saskatoon, Regina, Swift Current, Tisdale and southeast Saskatchewan, including Weyburn, Estevan and Oxbow for now, but they are looking for a few more.

Quantum is an agricultural genetics company in operation since 2003 and has been doing PCR testing within that field for 15 years now, she noted.

Galloway gave an example of a mining operation that had to shut down for four days, at great expense, after a few COVID-19 cases showed up. Their service will allow companies like that to quickly test their entire staff and get back up and running again.

“They can arrange to have one of our testers come out and do testing on asymptomatic individuals at the workplace, to ensure that people who are coming into the workplace are COVID-free. The results are available in 24 hours, but we can do a 12-hour rush, if they want, but of course, that costs more money,” she explained.

Members of the public could either come to one of their locations for a test, or have a tester come to their house. An example would be if someone wanted to know if they were an asymptomatic carrier.

Galloway pointed out, “We’re both Saskatchewan home-grown companies. Quantum Genetix started in Saskatchewan. They are Saskatchewan people, and so is Nobel. We started in Saskatchewan, and this is a wholly-owned Saskatchewan venture.”

As far as she is aware, they are the first companies to offer this service in Saskatchewan. Galloway confirmed on Tuesday that the new service will be available starting March 1, and can be booked either online or through a call to Nobel HSSE Management Ltd.