Profile: Dr Sean Parsons. Rapid Testing for COVID-19

May 14, 2021

Ellume’s Cinderella story of business success had its beginnings in university science.

Ellume was founded by Dr Sean Parsons, a science and medical graduate from the University of Queensland (UQ)

In February 2021, Queensland-based digital diagnostics company Ellume signed a $302 million contract with the US Government to produce millions of COVID-19 rapid home test kits.

Ellume was founded by Dr Sean Parsons, a science and medical graduate from the University of Queensland (UQ). He says his ability to imagine and develop a nanoparticle-based testing system came partly from the skills developed in his dual major degree in physiology and biomedical science.

“My science degree was crucial in giving me the building blocks to be able to look at the issue I had identified and forge ahead to create a solution,” says Parsons.

During his time as a hospital clinician during Australia’s 2009–2010 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, as he treated worried patients queuing for tests in packed waiting rooms and potentially spreading the virus, Parsons saw the need for fast, simple and accurate diagnostic tools.

He began a side project to develop a self-diagnosis test so people could isolate themselves while testing, with results forwarded to doctors or hospitals for treatment. 

Within three years, his hobby project had become a promising biomedical startup. Ellume now employs around 350 Australians across its three Brisbane offices and production facility, with immediate plans to expand into the US and Europe. 

In 2019, Ellume partnered with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to create a smartphone-linked home

flu test. At this time, its rapid tuberculosis test was already underway, and the company was in a prime position to develop and produce rapid testing for COVID-19 when the global pandemic hit. 

By January 2021, single-use test kits were in production. 

Users take their own nasal swab, insert it into a small tube containing a solution, which is inserted into a Bluetooth-linked test stick which can detect viral particles within 15 minutes and send the data to the user’s smartphone. Results can then be transmitted through a secure cloud connection.

Sean’s career path:

> Bachelor of Science (Hons), UQ

> Bachelor of Medicine, UQ

> Emergency and Intensive Care Clinician, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Caboolture Hospital  

> Founder, Ellume

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