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Pfizer offers $100m to buy Brisbane company behind smartphone app that diagnoses COVID-19

Smartphone App

Pfizer has offered $100 million to buy a Brisbane-based company that has invented a smartphone app it says can diagnose COVID-19 by listening to someone cough.

ResApp CEO and managing director Tony Keating described the deal as a potential “game changer” for dealing with COVID-19.

“Pfizer represents a huge opportunity to get this test into people’s hands,” Dr Keating said.

Pfizer is one of the world’s largest bio-pharmaceutical companies.

ResApp began with research performed by professor Udantha Abeyratne at the University of Queensland.

“He came up with the idea that cough sounds contain information about what’s going on inside your lungs,” Dr Keating said.

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Doctors are currently using a version of the app to help diagnose respiratory conditions such as asthma and pneumonia during telehealth appointments.

It was only recently that researchers discovered the technology could be used to detect COVID-19 if a patient coughed five times into a microphone.

Dr Keating said recent studies showed a 92 per cent success rate in diagnosing the virus, but more clinical trials were needed for it to gain regulatory approval.

The accuracy of the test drops if the person has no symptoms.

“If you are truly asymptomatic, we are a similar accuracy to a rapid antigen test, so we do drop down to 50-60 per cent accurate in that case,” Dr Keating said.

The company said negative tests using ResApp were 99 per cent accurate, however, a positive test should be confirmed using a RAT kit or PCR test.

‘Paving a new era in digital heath’

Research engineer Jack Hanson was the one to discover the successful algorithm for the COVID-19 app.

“We didn’t really have that watershed moment because it was incremental improvements over time,” he said.

“We developed a whole swathe of algorithms to see how well each one would detect the COVID signature that we’re looking for, which is present in the coughs of people with COVID.”

The 28-year-old said he was shocked by Pfizer’s announcement.

“I expected at most a collaboration or some investment,” Mr Hanson said.

“That’s an amazing outcome.”

Pfizer’s chief digital and technology officer, Lidia Fonseca, said: “This proposed acquisition and research collaboration add to our growing digital capabilities and bolster our efforts to pave a new era for digital health.”

Seventy-five per cent of shareholders need to vote in favour of the deal for the acquisition to go ahead.

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Via Louisa Rebgetz
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