DeepVerge awarded €750,000 grant to detect Covid-19 in wastewater

Irish-founded tech company will accelerate mass production of testing equipment

DeepVerge uses AI to detect coronavirus particles in wastewater. Photograph: iStock

DeepVerge uses AI to detect coronavirus particles in wastewater. Photograph: iStock

 

Irish-founded company DeepVerge has been awarded a €750,000 grant by Enterprise Ireland to part-fund the design and mass production of infectious disease and pathogen detection instruments capable of monitoring wastewater for particles of Covid-19.

The grant will contribute to a €2.8 million project by DeepVerge, a scientific research group listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM). The Cambridge-headquartered company (formerly Integumen), founded and led by Irishman Gerard Brandon, started work on detecting E.coli bacteria in water in 2015.

At the outset of the pandemic, the company began retrofitting its detection equipment to “go after” the virus particles that cause Covid-19. As demand for wastewater-based epidemiology services surged, it acquired international monitoring contracts through its modern water division, while some 60 jobs have been added this year at its data and technology unit Rinocloud in Fermoy, Co Cork.

The Enterprise Ireland grant will be used to accelerate the design, assembly and mass production of testing equipment that can be deployed at wastewater sites, as well as in hospitals, hotels, stadiums and other venues, said DeepVerge chief operating officer Fin Murray.

“Wastewater tells us everything we need to know about human health and environmental health. There is so much data in it and we can exploit that.”

Smaller instruments

While the existing retrofitted detection instruments are “the size of fridges”, the intention is to develop instruments of varying size, with some suitable for lowering down manholes.

If detecting E.coli is like “searching for a needle in a haystack”, the relatively smaller size of a SARS-CoV-2 particle is “like going after a needle in a haystack in a haystack in a haystack”, Mr Murray said, and DeepVerge’s technology represents a breakthrough.

In simplified terms, the detection instruments use microchips coated with a binder that acts as a sort of “biological Velcro”, he said, binding only with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. A light is shone on the chip – if the virus is present, it gives rise to a shadow that can be picked up by AI.

“AI sees further into the dark than you can imagine,” said Mr Murray, who paid tribute to Enterprise Ireland for the support it has given the company in both Ireland and its overseas markets.