Episode 3: Self-collection

Diagnostics: Beyond the Lab

Jan 13, 2023

In this episode of Diagnostics: Beyond the Lab we talk to Giorgio Triva, CEO and Strategic Project Manager of Copan Group, based in Italy, about what his company and the work it has done to become a global leader in sample collection, transport and test accuracy for infectious diseases.

Hosts & Guests

Janet Silver

Cameron Groome

Giorgio Triva




Meet the Guests

Giorgio Triva

Upon graduating from Milan Politecnico in 2014 with a degree in industrial management engineering, Giorgio Triva joined Copan Group as a strategic project manager, helping develop an automation system for DNA databasing that is currently used in more than 70 government laboratories worldwide.

He now covers a dual role in the company: first, he serves as CEO of Newlab, the company’s branch dedicated to developing microbiological QC automation solutions for the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industries. Secondly, he is a member of Copan’s board of directors, contributing to the success of strategic projects such as acquisitions, investments, and opening manufacturing sites in California, Shanghai, and Puerto Rico.

About Copan

Copan was founded in 1979 by the late Giorgio Triva, in Brescia, Italy. They now have subsidiaries all across the world, such as manufacturing in Italy, the United States, and China. They are global leaders in specimen collection, transport, and automated workflow systems. Their FLOQSwab® technology has revolutionized bacteriology, virology, and molecular biology test pre-analytics. To learn more about Copan, visit www.copangroup.com.

Microbix & Copan Collaboration 

Microbix and Copan have been collaborating for years. In 2020,  they formalized their agreement for joint usage of their respective brands for marketing of novel and innovative QAPs – Combining Copan’s well-known FLOQ® brand with Microbix’s emerging PROCEEDx™ (RUO) and REDx™ (IVD) brands – to use PROCEEDx™FLOQ® and REDx™FLOQ® as worldwide branding for active co-marketing of leading-edge FLOQSwab-formatted QAPs by Microbix and Copan.

About This Episode

[00:00:00] Janet Silver: Hello, I’m Janet Silver from Syntax Strategic. 

[00:00:10] Cameron Groome: I’m Cameron Groome from Microbix Biosystems. Thanks for joining us for Diagnostics Beyond the Lab. On this podcast, we talk to industry leaders in the scientific and health community about discoveries, challenges, and what they see as the way forward in their fields.

[00:00:28] Janet Silver: And Cameron, today we are going to talk about sample collection for infectious diseases. Something we all came to experience firsthand over the last couple of years with PCR tests for covid. Collected either through nasal or throat swabs. 

[00:00:42] Cameron Groome: And in addition to that type of sample collection and testing, COVID also highlighted the importance of reliable sample stabilization and transport, ensuring test accuracy in maintaining reliable supply chains.

[00:00:56] Copan Group, based in Italy is a leader in these fields. So joining us from Brescia Italy is Giorgio Triva, strategic project manager of Copan.

[00:01:12] Giorgio Triva: Thank you, Cameron. 

[00:01:13] Cameron Groome: Great. Well, Giorgio, Copan began over 40 years ago, and about 20 years ago, your family owned company created the FLOQ Swab, which most of us have come to know as the swab put up our noses to test for COVID. Can you start by taking us back to how that idea came about? 

[00:01:35] Giorgio Triva: Sure. Well first of all as you may know, Copan stands for collection and preservation for analysis.

[00:01:43] So producing has always been our main core businesses and and the main reason of existence for this company. So my father had invented the FLOQ Swab during a rainy day here in Brescia while he was visiting one large market with my mother. And actually he noticed looking at some hangers that the tool used to keep jackets in the closet, he noticed some kind of velvet treatment on the external side of these. Which is typically used to keep the jacket firm once they are hung on these hangers. So looking at this treatment, he had this kind of epiphany where he got the idea of exploiting this treatment in the microbiological field order, improving the way clinical swabs were manufactured. Basically, improving and releasing biological samples.

[00:02:50] Janet Silver: So with regards to the FLOQ Swab, Giorgio, it looks, when I look at it, it looks really very similar to a Q-tip. You know what people will use maybe to clean their ears or clean jewelry or what have you. How is it different than a Q-tip, the flock swab versus the Q-tip? And why could you not use a Q-tip for these kinds of tests?

[00:03:13] Giorgio Triva: Well, for sure they could look similar even though we are talking about a medical device. So there’s a bit of science behind that is maybe not clearly visible, but it’s surely very important. So let’s first start from the scope of a swab, which is basically to attract an analyte in being and even, more importantly, to be able to make these analytes available for downwards, for any kind of chemistry used to perform any diagnosis.

[00:03:45] Again, it could seem a simple object, but there’s some kind of a physical study to make it retro in a way which is working well for the typical workflow used in a clinical diagnostics. So, the main reason why FLOQ Swabs anyhow are superior compared to, for example, other kinds of traditional swabs or foam swabs is related to the way the fibers, which are used to functionalize the swab and are deposited on the stick used to basically as an older to collect the sample. In this kind of treatment, which is the flocking technology we invented. We create a kind of microstructure of cells that are just the perfect way to guarantee a balance between the capacity of the system to absorb the sample, but not retaining it too much. And so being able to release it when needed for the chemistry used downwards, as I said before.

[00:04:46] Cameron Groome: So a fast capillary-based, capillary-like uptake and a complete and fast release as well. So, diving into that a little more deeply, Giorgio precisely how much better is sampling with a Copan FLOQ Swab compared to a cotton swab, a Q-tip, or another spun fibertech swab? 

[00:05:07] Giorgio Triva: Well, as I said, those swabs have existed from a quite a long time. 

[00:05:11] So Copan was also, and still is also a manufacturer of traditional one banded swabs. So we invented the FLOQ Swabs to improve what was our portfolio of products at the time. And from our studies that were very frequently done. Also, thanks to the collaboration of the clinical community, we could notice basically an improvement of fourfolds.

[00:05:36] In terms of the performance of releasing the analyte compared to, for example, the bounded-swabs, which are very similar to the Q-tips even more, let’s say, and the former swabs that you mentioned just a few seconds ago. So basically the importance of these performances that thanks to this improvement, we can reduce the chances of getting false negatives, and at the end, this is allowing to have a better diagnostics, which reflects in a better management of the cure for the patient. 

[00:06:13] Cameron Groome: Certainly we’ve seen similar performance advantages in our own data, Giorgio, where variability of controls on a Copan Swab is plus or minus 5%, or in that order, compared to perhaps as much as plus or minus a hundred percent variability on traditional swabs.

[00:06:31] So, it’s a real thing and a real advantage. How do you ensure that each Copan FLOQ Swab performs consistently?

[00:06:41] Giorgio Triva: For sure. Creating a company that is basing its success on this very tiny niche of the diagnostic field has been the first driver of the reason why we invested a lot in guaranteeing the quality of our product in the last 40 years. Quality clearly is not a negligible parameter, especially when dealing with medical devices that influence the quality of a therapy. So I like to say that like Apple in the PC industry, Copan has always believed in the value of having a kind of end-to-end control of its processes.

[00:07:21] This means that starting from the very small plastic grain that we use to injection mold, our sticks. Until the finished product is done. And thanks obviously to the hard work of a very passionate team. We have been able to develop a lot of technologies that allow us to check efficiently and effectively the quality of each single product that is manufactured.

[00:07:46] In particular, I would say that we exploit a lot of imaging technologies to detect even the smallest details that are not visible with the human eye. And our quality is then certified also by the recognition of our brand on the market. Also in very challenging markets like for example, the Japanese one, which is very peculiar when it comes to measuring the quality of the product.

[00:08:09] Also for very simple aesthetic defects. 

[00:08:13] Janet Silver: Giorgio, we started off at the podcast referencing COVID-19 and how we’ve all come to recognize the FLOQ Swab as something that we put up our nose to do those COVID tests. And I’m just wondering, are there other applications where FLOQ Swabs can be used in terms of sample collection?

[00:08:31] Giorgio Triva: Absolutely. Well as the respiratory viruses are one family of reasons why people should, could be tested. Anyhow, you have to consider FLOQ Swabs and more generally the product family as a typically general tool for noninvasive collections. To give some examples, there are other applications where these approaches are applied.

[00:08:58] You can think about HPV screening with vaginal samples, stool testing again, bacterial contamination or parasites, and many other cases, where a simple and more practical tool of sampling is preferred over more invasive approaches. If you think also, how the scale of testing is growing over the last decades.

[00:09:21] It’s clearly very important to keep the feasibility of these programs, thanks to that, an easy way of collecting these samples at the end. Let’s say simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, someone said.

[00:09:37] Cameron Groome: Certainly we’ve seen them, we’ve seen the importance of FLOQ Swab technology through COVID.

[00:09:43] Getting better accuracy on testing has been incredibly important, but now that we’ve had that run through of the importance of proper sample collection technologies like FLOQ Swab, Giorgio, what by extension would be your thought about the importance of some of the medium based sample transport devices and practices?

[00:10:05] I’m thinking about some of the liquid medium that the swabs go into to stabilize them for testing. 

[00:10:12] Giorgio Triva: Yes. So again, we are talking about larger scale testing, and this is typically requiring a high throughput system, which means that very often samples need to be transported somewhere else to be tested and to very often, to central laboratories that are taking care of these activities with an economy of scale, which is allowing them to make these analyses in a fast enough and economically viable way. So when you have to then transport the sample, the issue again comes with integrity of it. So it’s very clear that the importance of not wasting this pressure sample is on the ability to keep basically the target that you are searching for in a kind of stable and stationary situation until the moment it reaches the testing center. And in order to do that, very often, it’s required the usage of particular mediums to guarantee these requirements are respected.

[00:11:19] So Copan has worked many years developing its own reagent and solutions to do that. UTM, which is the universal transport medium, was often used for COVID testing in the last two years. But we also have other types like for example which is one of our solutions to basically immediately inactivate the sample at the point of collection, reducing the risk associated with the spreading of dangerous pathogens during the supply chain. Or the logistics or in a better way. And also giving the ability to have a safer management of these samples once they reach the testing laboratory 

[00:12:05] Cameron Groome: Very good.

[00:12:06] And throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen reliable access to pretty much any testing related materials has been very difficult, especially with regards to high quality materials. As a longstanding leader in the diagnostic field, particularly of course with sample collection handling, what insights might you share on behalf of Copan, about supply chains and how to ensure their integrity and security for infectious diseases testing. 

[00:12:36] Giorgio Triva: Well, it has been surely an active period for all of us working in this field considering that no one could, even though there were some kind of of outlet from the scientific community and about the possibility of a pandemic sooner or later, it’s also true that no one could predict precisely when it could appear. So, Copan found itself as one of the few suppliers for these critical components. And we immediately reacted to the pandemic of the century, knowing the responsibility that we were having on our shoulders and every component of the company had worked on a daily basis remembering the importance of its of our work in order to let others, to save lives. 

[00:13:20] In the last two years, we have done our best to increase our manufacturing capacity and we have actually opened two manufacturing facilities abroad in North America in order to diversify the risk of the supply chain side. Also shortening the distance from the end point of consumption for our product. Besides that, we have invested a lot to improve our capabilities in predicting the demand and trying also artificial intelligence technologies in order to read weak signals of the demand and activating then decisions faster than in the past.

[00:14:00] The basic, any way needed for these supply chain optimization is anyhow, the ability to keep data accessible to any of the players who are working actively in the medical device industry, providing products that are used for epidemiological control, basically. So this was surely during the COVID peak times because we were reading journals and data about the testing capacities were available for almost anyone in the world.

[00:14:32] We should keep this approach let’s say active, because this will truly help as and many other players in order also to detect, for example, a new potential emergency in the future. 

[00:14:47] Cameron Groome: It’s amazing to see how much has changed over the past nearly three years now. Few people had heard, going back that far, swab-based, sample collection, viral transport, medium, Copan, or for that matter, Microbix. 

[00:15:01] Now a lot of that’s changed, but you know, do you see us being prepared for another pandemic? If we see a pandemic in 2024, or some point in the future? Are we prepared? And, if so, why? And if not, why not? 

[00:15:16] Giorgio Triva: Well, I cannot be the person who can answer, on a global basis, on this. But for sure we are more prepared compared pre-COVID. The whole industry has actually responsibly invested to scale up the production of basically everything that would be needed, next time a new pandemic, of course.

[00:15:39] So anyhow, this strategy cannot, in my opinion, be left at the end of the private sector only. These investments must be maintained somehow. And anyhow, some sort of continuous control in order to detect the weak signals. As I mentioned before, it should be maintained in order to recognize a new pandemic.

[00:16:01] Of course the complexity comes also from the fact that this is not an issue that one country alone could resolve. It requires basically a global intervention. With coordinated rules and flow of information that then reflects in the ability to react right in time to keep these risks under control.

[00:16:23] That’s my opinion. 

[00:16:26] Janet Silver: So Georgio, you’re talking about preparations for a possible future pandemic, but I’m just wondering, looking back to what we’ve just gone through, are there lessons to be learned? For policy-makers, for those working in labs, laboratory directors, with what we’ve just gone through that we could implement now or should implement?

[00:16:48] Giorgio Triva: Well, for sure talking about vaccines they have contributed a lot in reducing strongly the risks associated with this specific pathogen. Let’s not forget that testing is the only way to detect if this emerges a new emergency, of course. And again, I think having a more coordinated international action plan could be, in my opinion, a more useful way in exploiting the resources that are typically scarce. Where and when they are more needed. Assisting again, for example, to a sort of, I don’t know if this exists in English, caravan assault, with the objective to get hold of as many resources as possible could be maybe not the best way to mitigate the consequences. Could be a good way to mitigate the consequences locally, but might not be the right answer to control an enemy who doesn’t care basically of geopolitics borders.

[00:17:46] So in the next future, hopefully not so next, my hope is that truly policy makers will find a way to create more synergies in this case, because again, if you have a surgeon in a, let’s say in a positive rate, in a specific region, stock piles thousand kilometers far away from there are maybe not so relevant in order to again, control that risk.

[00:18:12] And if that risk spreads, then we are not probably optimizing the resources at their best. 

[00:18:20] Cameron Groome: So some of that capacity that’s been built up, for example, coming out of COVID, you know, how do you think we should be deploying that over the next decade or, couple of decades?

[00:18:31] Is that in bio vigilance for new pathogens? Is that for better healthcare, more generally? Are there any specific areas that Copan has identified that those resources should be allocated toward? 

[00:18:46] Giorgio Triva: Okay. So difficult to answer, but I don’t expect to have a crystal ball here. I would say from our side, being a pre-analytic company, we are here to serve basically any need that could emerge. And any use case that could be useful for the management of these risks on a community basis. My personal dream would be to see a higher degree of decentralization of diagnostic tools. Not necessarily in opposition with the current centralized infrastructures, but maybe opening the door to new use cases that today, we as a society are not able to target, or to detect. So, this scenario could surely require safe, simple, and economically viable technological tools. But if again, we make a comparison to what happened in the personal computer industry comparing how mainframes were used I kind of feel a positive thrill for what could come next in the microbiological field.

[00:19:54] Cameron Groome: Are you thinking about self-collection and point of care testing, Giorgio? 

[00:19:59] Giorgio Triva: Absolutely, absolutely. For sure. Bringing potentially positive contaminated individuals to a single point to get them tested might not be, in the end, the best way to control this kind of risk. At the same time, we are clearly to manage regulated market with the needs of certifying the validity of this product and the validity of the results that these diagnostic tools can can give. 

[00:20:29] So it’s not an easy answer, but I mean, humanity has been able to reinvent itself many times and create fantastic inventions. So I don’t want to limit our fantasy here in imagining how in the next pandemic we’ll react at the end.

[00:20:47] The objective in my opinion, should be potentially not to generate a new pandemic. So being able to detect it fast enough in order to let’s say to limit the spread in a way in which basically we avoid it. But again, even if this is not possible, having the ability to test people in a decentralized manner is for sure interesting.

[00:21:13] As a, let’s say technological infrastructure, where to develop new use cases. At the moment, I don’t have one. Otherwise, I would surely propose it. But I believe there are potential opportunities there to improve the way we know our communities and we know the leverages we can play to at the end provide to these communities a better way of living. 

[00:21:38] Janet Silver: Giorgio, we’ll be watching to see if those global synergies actually come to fruition. Giorgio Triva from Copan, based in Brescia, Italy. Thank you so much for joining us. 

[00:21:49] Giorgio Triva: Thank you so much. 

[00:21:51] Cameron Groome: Thank you so much Giorgio. Privileged to be working with you and the Copan team on helping realize some of these ideas and opportunities.

[00:22:00] That’s all the time we have for today though, so thank you again Giorgio, and thank you for tuning in everyone. I’m Cameron Groome. 

[00:22:07] Janet Silver: And I’m Janet Silver, and this is Diagnostics Beyond the Lab. Until next time.

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