As the world is gripped ever more tightly by the COVID 19 pandemic, the fight against the virus is being ramped up across the globe. One of the first steps is rolling out wide-scale antigen testing of sufficient quality and speed. Testing to determine who is currently infected is a key step in breaking the chain of transmission, which is especially pertinent for front-line NHS staff. There has been significant coverage in the UK press on the apparent lack of speed with which the British government has made sufficient testing available.
Abbot Laboratories has stepped into this fray, developing a highly effective, portable and rapid testing device for COVID 19, an iteration of its current “ID Now system”. The US Food and Drug Administration has provided emergency approval for the device and Abbot Laboratories has announced plans to manufacture c.50,00 units a day from 1 April.
The device is unique to its current peers due to both its smaller size (it weighs c.3kg) and the speed with which is provides results (within minutes), allowing patients to be given results while they wait.
The test uses a swab of the nose or the back of throat that is then mixed with a chemical compound to break open any virus present and reveal it’s RNA (genetic identifiers). The solution is inserted into the ID Now system, which provides a positive or negative result within minutes.
Testing is particularly important given the insidious nature of the virus, evidenced by the recent case in Netherlands where a sample of over 1,000 medical staff were tested and c.6.5% were determined to have the virus, but almost of half of these positive cases displayed no discernible symptoms.
This also highlights the need for a robust antibody test to be rolled out as soon as possible to determine the extent of the population already infected. Individuals with antibodies present may have a level of immunity already, and could therefore be directed to help the most vulnerable.
Although no announcement has yet been made in relation to exporting the device, the technology will hopefully be replicated across the globe as manufacturers share their techniques to try and halt the pandemic.
Testing is the first prong in the war with COVID 19, with treatment through antiviral drugs and development of an effective vaccine the ultimate goal in finally breaking the course of the pandemic, allowing the world to breathe fully again. It can not be long until we see UK tech and phama companies come up with their solutions to sit alongside Mr Dyson’s ventilators.
“This is really going to provide a tremendous opportunity for front-line caregivers, those having to diagnose a lot of infections, to close the gap with our testing,” Frels said. “A clinic will be able to turn that result around quickly, while the patient is waiting.”