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Kiwi scanner could end mass chaos of anthrax hoaxe

New Kiwi scanner could end the mass chaos of anthrax hoaxes


Andrew Rudge (left)
and Professor Lou Reinisch with two anthrax-sniffing
Scouts.
Click to enlarge
Andrew Rudge (left) and Professor Lou Reinisch with two of the Scouts.

Media Release November 4 2008

New Kiwi scanner could end the mass chaos of anthrax hoaxes

The often-massive disruption caused by hoax anthrax scares could be ended thanks to a Christchurch company’s invention of a hand-held scanner that quickly and accurately identifies the presence of potentially lethal spores in powder samples.

Veritide Ltd has received requests for all of the new “Scout” scanners it has available, following a sales trip to the United States in August.

The Scout, based on world-leading optical detection technology developed at the University of Canterbury, accurately identifies the presence of potentially lethal spores in powder samples within minutes. Existing technologies and products take between 30 minutes and three days to do the same job.

In a further endorsement of its potential, the Scout also recently made it to the semi finals of the Global Security Challenge (www.globalsecuritychallenge.com), which selects the most promising security technology start-ups in the world.

The Scout’s two years of research and development was part-funded with a $450,000 investment from TechNZ, the business investment arm of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, with $50,000 market development funding from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

The technology was invented by a team led by Professor Lou Reinisch, Dean of Science at the University of Canterbury, who is also now part of Veritide's management team.

Veritide was founded with $1.6 million of venture capital from Endeavour Capital and Ngai Tahu Capital.

TechNZ business manager Mark Gallagher is delighted with the Scout’s potential.

“Veritide’s device is a great example of technology being developed at a New Zealand university and then commercialised through public and private funding, to solve real world problems for customers around the globe,” he says.

Veritide chief executive officer Andrew Rudge, the 2004 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year, says the company has sales requests for all its available Scouts with clients including hazardous materials teams in major United States cities and US defence agencies.

The Scout is a non-invasive device that uses ultraviolet light and detection algorithms to detect bacterial spores and does not consume or destroy the sample being tested.

“Existing technologies rely on reagent-based wet chemistry,” says Mr Rudge. “They are typically unreliable and hard to use in real world situations and also destroy the suspicious sample in the analysis process, preventing follow up testing.”

Mr Rudge says US emergency “first responder” agencies placing orders for the Scout see its reliability and speed as key advantages.

“It’s simple to use – analysis begins with the press of a single button and it returns a ‘spores detected’ or ‘no spores detected’ result within minutes. That saves both time and money in terms of disruptions and evacuations, because security staff get immediate feedback on whether they are dealing with a hoax or the real thing.”

Mr Rudge says the August sales trip indicated a much larger potential market for the device than earlier predictions, with demand three to four times higher than expected.

He says Veritide has worked closely with first responders in key US cities on the concept, design, ergonomics and required functionality of the Scout, to ensure the device will meet their needs.

The Scout has been validated by New Zealand forensic testing laboratory ESR after extensive testing on a variety of hoax substances and anthrax simulants. Direct testing with anthrax is now underway in recognised, independent US and United Kingdom laboratories, as Veritide seeks the next level of endorsement.

Ultimately, Veritide plans to have its technology tested at the “gold standard” facility for testing biological and chemical weapons, the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground.
Mr Rudge says while the Scout is now on the market, research and development is continuing, to extend its detection capability to include other dangerous biological threats such as botox and ricin.

Veritide is also researching other applications for its technology in areas such as quality monitoring for food, water and air supplies and medical applications such as non-invasive medical screening.

Veritide’s directors include Neville Jordan, who took telecommunications microwave company MAS Technology from a start up to a successful listing on the NASDAQ; and Bill Lee, who heads Canterprise, the commercial arm of the University of Canterbury.

In 2004, Andrew Rudge was named New Zealand’s top young scientist in the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards, which are presented annually by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.


ENDS

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