Can COVID-19 testing be made more sustainable during prolonged uncertainty?

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Time to read:   3 minute read

Updated : Tue, September 28, 2021 @ 9:32 PM

Originally published : Mon, Sep 27, 2021 @ 12:36 PM

In September 2021, Delta persists as the most prevalent variant worldwide1 due to its high infectivity, causing surges in COVID-19 cases to the point where some areas are reopening mass testing centres.2 As long as COVID-19 continues to defy expectations and predictions, testing will play a key role in managing the virus3 -whether it’s for re-introducing activities that provide a sense of normalcy or for the surveillance of emerging variants. With some local governments incorporating mandatory testing requirements into their re-opening strategies, there is growing concern about the availability and supply-chain resilience in order to access testing reagents and supplies to support another spike in demand.4,5

 covid-sample

The unpredictable conditions caused by the pandemic require persistent revision of public health control measures and adaptable systems to keep up with the virus. Society is faced with an increasingly feasible reality that COVID-19 is here to stay, with experts speculating that it will transition from a pandemic to an endemic.6 It is expected that screening for COVID-19 will join the ranks of the flu, where long-term testing strategies will be critical to differentiate between respiratory diseases, understand if vaccines are effective, and control the spread of the virus. This reinforces the essential need for investment in global health infrastructure to not only continue monitoring any outbreaks and detrimental mutations, but also to be better equipped for future pandemics.

To prevent backtracking progress in SARS-CoV-2 management, testing infrastructure needs to be sustainable long-term to keep tests accessible to the public and inform health officials on whether or not current safety precautions need to be amended. Testing systems like LGC, Biosearch Technologies’ ultra-high-throughput PCR platform can keep up with fluctuating testing demands in an economically viable way due to minimised labour costs enabled by automated sample processing, amplification and data analysis workflows. The powerhouse of this end-point PCR workflow is the Nexar™, which is the same technology behind the COVID-19 testing megalabs deployed by the UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Biosearch Technologies recently filed for an emergency use authorisation of another version of their customisable ultra-high-throughput workflow called the Biosearch Technologies SARS-CoV-2 ultra-high-throughput End-Point RT-PCR Test. This detection system automates sample accessioning without an extraction step, before proceeding to amplification carried out on the Nexar, Hydrocycler2™, and Araya™ instruments. Sample intake, data interpretation and workflow management are automated through UgenTec’s artificial intelligence (AI) software, which can be integrated into existing LIMS and IT infrastructure. The system is competitively cost-effective, attributed to the unique price-per-reportable pricing model and cost savings from reduced labour requirements.

 This testing system can screen both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, where samples may be collected from the anterior nares. As the swabs don’t require any hazardous buffers, they are particularly suited to self-collection, ensuring sample integrity is preserved during shipping resulting in fewer rejections upon arrival at the lab.  

Over the course of the pandemic, sample accessioning often introduced a lot of bottlenecks due to lack of standardisation and high manual labour. The automation-friendly tube format of the dry swab collection device means that hands-on time is considerably reduced. In addition, the option for an automated decapping step grants the ability to parallel process 96 samples at a time before a lysis and inactivation step to prepare the sample. Since RNA extraction is not required, there isn’t a need for additional reagents and the time handling the samples is minimised to increase the safety for lab personnel. Our performance evaluation studies showed that using crude extract samples did not compromise sensitivity with the limit of detection (LoD) of 250 copies per swab. 

nexar-array-tape

Biosearch Technologies SARS-CoV-2 ultra-high-throughput End-Point RT-PCR Test is flexible to scale during the surges and lulls of the pandemic, with the capability of processing over 110,00 tests within a 24-hour period. This throughput is enabled by the Array Tape™ consumable, which is a thin polymer strip of serially embossed reaction wells that serve as a more sustainable alternative to plastic plates. Learn more about the scalable workflow that can cut costs through labour-saving automation.

 

References

  1. Share of sequences that are the delta variant. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-cases-delta?country=AUS~BRA~GBR~USA~ITA~ESP~DEU~IND~ARG~BEL~CAN~CHN~JPN~ISR~MEX~PHL~PRT~SGP~ZAF~KOR~SWE~CHE~THA~FRA~GRC~IRL~KEN~NLD~NGA~NZL~PER~NOR~RUS~UGA~URY~ZMB~ZWE
  2. Anthes, E. As demand surges in the U.S., counties reopen virus testing sites. The New York Times. 11 Aug 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/11/health/covid-testing-sites-reopen.html
  3. Anthes, E. Why Testing Still Matters. The New York Times. 26 Mar 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/health/coronavirus-covid-testing.html
  4. Erb, R. Michigan labs fear COVID test shortages. Will new mandates add to strain? Bridge Michigan. Michigan Health Watch. 20 Sep 2021. https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-health-watch/michigan-labs-fear-covid-test-shortages-will-new-mandates-add-strain
  5. Woolston, C. ‘Does anyone have any of these?’: Lab-supply shortages strike amid global pandemic. Nature Career News. 09 Mar 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00613-y
  6. Feldscher, K. COVID’s future: From pandemic to endemic? The Harvard Gazette. 12 Aug 2021. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/08/what-will-it-be-like-when-covid-19-becomes-endemic/ 

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LGC, Biosearch Technologies is the complete Genomics portfolio from LGC. Providing genomic analysis tools, instrumentation and services to the genomic scientific discovery sector worldwide, with focus on across ag bio, pharma and molecular diagnostics. Visit our home page to view our products and services.

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