Doctor’s flu fighter banned for Australians

TAXPAYERS have spent more than $1 million to develop a world-first DIY flu test that is banned in Australia.

The on-the-spot test, invented by Brisbane emergency doctor Sean Parsons, could cut influenza cases by one-third by preventing its spread.

The Federal Government gave a $1 million grant to Dr Parsons' company Ellume, which yesterday opened a South Brisbane laboratory to manufacture up to 40 million flu and strep throat tests each year.

But the hi-tech home tests can only be sold overseas, due to Australia's 19-year-old ban on self-testing for all notifiable infectious diseases except HIV.

Dr Parsons said America would be the main market for selling the tests, which let patients self-test a saliva swab using a USB-type device that clicks into a smartphone for instant diagnosis of the flu or strep throat.

He said patients could send the results directly to a doctor - or even to the boss as proof of illness.

Dr Sean Parsons, founder of Ellume.
Dr Sean Parsons, founder of Ellume.

"A well-executed home flu test has the potential to reduce flu in the community by at least 30 per cent,'' he said.

"It will reduce the number of people hospitalised, and in intensive care wards with the flu.

"There is not home flu testing approved in Australia yet … we look forward to explaining the benefits to regulators in Australia.''

Dr Parsons said he wanted to "thank the Australian taxpayer'' for the federal and state grants and research and development (R & D) tax incentives that helped get his company off the ground.

"Without them, Ellume would not exist as it does today,'' he said.

"The government will get (back in company taxes) 10 times what it put in.''

Queensland LNP Senator Paul Scarr, who attended the launch yesterday, said Ellume had received a $1 million federal grant as well as R & D tax incentives.

Asked why the company could not sell its Australian-made flu tests in Australia, Senator Scarr said: "There's a process to be followed there, watch this space.''

Ellume started in 2010 with just two staff, but now employs 60 workers at its South Brisbane laboratory and is planning a public float.

It has teamed with global health giant GlaxoSmithKline to develop the flu test.

Dr Parsons said Ellume was also manufacturing rapid tests for tuberculosis, and planned to develop on-the-spot tests for sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has instructed the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to review the long-time ban on self-testing for infectious diseases including the flu.

A TGA spokeswoman yesterday said doctors, consumer groups and the pharmaceutical industry would be consulted during a review of regulations for self-testing devices later this year.

"Certain self-tests, including home tests for influenza and other notifiable infectious diseases (other than HIV) are currently prohibited from supply in Australia,'' she said.

"Australian consumers can access self-tests for personal use from overseas websites however the safety and performance of these tests have not been assessed by the TGA.''

In a horror flu season, 46,011 Queenslanders have been diagnosed with influenza this year - including 4090 in the past week.

Influenza has killed at least 83 Queenslanders, and landed 2185 in hospital, including 212 patients in intensive care wards so far this year.

Toowoomba mother-of-three Jacinta Foulds, 35, died from complications of influenza A this month.