From the shortage of COVID-19 test kits to a medtech start-up


GobiX, a med-tech start-up that creates custom medical testing devices and tools through 3-D printing, was launched recently. The story of Gobix started with a project of the Swiss Armed Forces following a shortage of COVID-19 test kits – particularly the nasopharyngeal swabs – during the peak of the outbreak in Switzerland in March.


The swabs and viral-collection fluid normally used in Switzerland prior to the COVID-19 crisis were produced in other countries, leaving Switzerland vulnerable to supply chain disruption. Because of global shortage, and in order to be independent of international supply chains, the Surgeon General of the Swiss Armed Forces, responsible for coordinating preparations and the deployment of Swiss public health resources in special and exceptional situations, launched a collaborative effort to develop production inside Swiss borders.

Thanks to swift collaboration between the Swiss Armed Forces, GobiX GmbH, its partner Biolytix AG, and volunteer healthcare experts, Switzerland now has a COVID-19 test production chain enabled by Formlabs 3D printing technology within its borders that was put in place in less than a month.

During this time, GobiX GmbH applied its medical and engineering expertise, and tapped into its network to create a scalable, fast system for swab and transportation fluid production. The swab design – developed by GobiX GmbH co-founder Patrice Gobat, a mechanical engineer and 3D printing expert from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) – can be printed at scale on demand, with each office-printer sized printer having a capacity of up to several hundred swabs per day.

Physician and GobiX GmbH co-founder, Michel Bielecki, who led the prototyping and deployment of the solution, said, “Two of the big problems with COVID-19 testing are 1 –  the availability of testing kits because we rely on external production and 2 –  accuracy and comfort since the use of a cotton swab, currently widely-used due to no other options, can be very unpleasant and is highly inaccurate for diagnostic purposes. Our solution doesn’t completely solve the shortage, but it ensures that we have an efficient and comfortable swab and can bypass short-term shortages during times when timing is crucial.”

The swabs, designed by GobiX during the first Swiss COVID-19 outbreak in Ticino, Switzerland, and clinically-tested by a team of ten doctors and medical laboratory analysts for collection efficiency, testing ease, and patient comfort, are CE-certified as a Medical class I device and in full production.  GobiX GmbH produces and packages the swabs for distribution among test locations across the country.

Adrian Härri, CEO, Biolytix AG, said, “Today, the key to fighting COVID-19 is simply identifying those who are infected as early as possible.  This is the motivation behind our collaboration with GobiX and Formlabs – we are teaming to address the critical need for tools and equipment needed to safely collect and transport viral samples.  One of the big challenges is getting the test samples to the analysis facility, without the risks involved of transporting a pathogenic virus.  Our sample collection fluid deactivates the virus upon contact, preserves the viral RNA for up to four days and does not require cooled transportation – greatly facilitating testing in remote locations and the safety of anybody involved.  Additionally, comparative tests have shown that the 3D printed swabs yield a higher amount of RNA, compared to its traditional counterparts, significantly improving the accuracy of the real-time PCR tests. We are extremely proud that our solution will contribute to accurate testing during this global crisis.”

(Press release / SK)
Picture: Formlabs