R&D Principal Scientist, Novacyt Group
Rapid testing at the point of care could speed up identification of COVID-19 or other respiratory conditions this winter and help in slowing infectious disease spread.
Clinicians and public health officials are braced for an increase in a range of respiratory conditions – as well as the ongoing COVID-19 threat – as winter approaches.
Social distancing, masks and handwashing slowed the transmission of COVID-19, but also meant other conditions such as influenza or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) were virtually non-existent, with limited immunity within the population.
This underlines the need for rapid and effective diagnostic tests to determine whether an individual has COVID-19 or if it is another respiratory condition.
Respiratory viruses present in similar ways, so we cannot really differentiate one respiratory virus from another by symptoms alone.
Gem McLuckie, R&D Principal Scientist, with a background in public health, warns that the infectious respiratory disease situation will be significantly different this year as restrictions put in place to stop COVID-19, also stopped the spread of influenza and RSV.
This has changed the dynamic; traditionally RSV would increase in winter, but as restrictions eased, there was evidence it was appearing before the winter season, she says.
“Respiratory viruses present in similar ways, so we cannot really differentiate one respiratory virus from another by symptoms alone, so there is a big push toward testing,” says McLuckie, who is Principal Scientist with global diagnostic company Novacyt Group.
“Increase in epidemiological testing is giving a better understanding of strains, but it is important to have testing conducted quickly to determine the correct diagnostic pathway and treatment plans. Part of surge planning for RSV is this need for rapid diagnostic testing.”
That has highlighted the need for new and novel ways to test quickly at point-of-care rather than sending samples to a central lab.
Faster diagnostic testing
Novacyt Group has devised a direct-PCR COVID-19 test, known as PROmate®, which avoids DNA isolation and purifications steps, and delivers a rapid diagnosis in under 80 minutes, meaning track, trace, isolation and treatment can begin sooner.
“Having the answer closer, and quicker, means we are better placed to get diagnostic tests up and running, and at the required capacity” she says.
Underlining the role of diagnostics in managing infectious diseases outbreaks is key. McLuckie believes the UK is well-placed to tackle COVID-19 and other respiratory conditions this winter with increased capacity, knowledge and testing capabilities.
Novacyt Group has also established a genomic surveillance programme to validate the coverage of COVID-19 detection products against the most up to date sequence information. It has a dedicated team of bioinformaticians daily analysing this huge amount of data, to ensure products can detect Variants of Concern and Variants under Investigation as well as emerging variants.