Coronavirus vaccination numbers continue to grow throughout the Tri-Valley and nation, but local company KAYA17 has found that there is still very much a need for quick and accurate COVID-19 testing and has dedicated itself to developing new rapid methods.
Most recently, the Livermore-based startup has developed the first-ever rapid COVID-19 test that is non-invasive and saliva-based. It is able to detect the virus with up to 98% accuracy in 15 minutes.
"KAYA17 test is basically a rapid saliva-based COVID test that can give you results within 15 minutes, and it's a saliva test so we don't have to poke your brains out," said KAYA17 CEO and co-founder Sulatha Dwarakanath. "We would be the first rapid saliva test. There are saliva tests that take place in the lab, so that's where we compare it to ... (but) we will be the first rapid saliva test for COVID-19."
"Initially there was a lot of disbelief about saliva tests, but we've really done it and showed people that it can be done (accurately)," added co-founder and CTO Srinagesh Satyanarayana.
While many organizations are focused on developing and administering vaccinations to quell the coronavirus pandemic, KAYA17 recognizes that the pandemic is still ongoing and there are centers that are still in dire need of testing.
Schools are one such institution that will still need testing, particularly as schools begin to return to in-person learning and young people are not yet eligible to receive vaccinations -- Alameda County allows residents 16 years old and above to receive the vaccine.
Airports, terminals and other large transit stations are also key areas that will need quick testing for people seeking to travel internationally or to any location that requires COVID-screening prior to arrival.
KAYA17 is generally cost-effective as well, according to Dwarakanath, who said that tests are $25 each to run without pooling tests. With federal support, pooling can reduce costs to $15 a test.
Speed is also a key component of the test. With one KAYA17 "reader" -- a briefcase with a full selection of testing equipment -- officials say 30 tests can be administered in the span of one hour. With five readers, that comes out to 150 tests in an hour.
Satyanarayana added that, while a user needs to be careful when conducting a test, they are also created with ease of use in mind.
"A lot of people like that, in addition to using saliva, running the test is very simple. Running the test is very easy when it comes to training someone to do it. You can easily train a school nurse to do it. It doesn't necessarily require a high level of skill to do it," Satyanarayana said. "I mean you do have to be careful when running staples, but it is very easy to learn."
KAYA17 hopes to receive federal funding and approval to help bring its rapid test to the public.
Company officials offered a tour of the facility to local U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore) -- who himself received a KAYA17 test that would come back negative -- on May 6 as part of their effort to gain federal support.
"Testing is becoming more and more important for younger people who are not yet vaccinated. We are opening it up soon to 12- to 15-year-olds getting vaccinated, but still that is a critical age group that can transmit. So for schools in particular you are still going to need tests until we get to immunity. Even as variants come in, it's going to be important to deploy these testing resources as quickly as possible," Swalwell said.
"My focus is supporting anything that can reopen schools as quickly as possible and also facilitate domestic and international travel so we can get this economy moving," he added.