The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved a new diagnostic test to detect COVID-19 in a development that could significantly reduce the cost of testing. Developed by IIT-Delhi, the test is believed to be the first real-time PCR-based diagnostic test from an academic institute to have received the stamp of approval from the ICMR.
This development is significant as the ICMR has stopped using China-made test kits for the testing of COVID-19 cases because of ‘massive variation in test results’. According to the report, the new test uses a ‘probe-free’ method that reduces the cost of testing without compromising on accuracy. It is a departure from most existing testing methods that are said to be ‘probe-based’ and, has reportedly been validated by the ICMR with a sensitivity and specificity of 100 percent.
According to an unidentified government official quoted by the PTI, “This is the first probe-free assay for COVID-19 approved by ICMR and it will be useful for specific and affordable high throughput testing. This assay can be easily scaled up as it does not require fluorescent probes. The team is targeting large scale deployment of the kit at affordable prices with suitable industrial partners as soon as possible”.
Using comparative sequence analyses, the researchers identified unique RNA sequences in the COVID-19 and SARS COV-2 genome. “These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19”, said Professor Vivekanandan Perumal, lead member of the IIT-Delhi team that included a number of PhD scholars, post-doctoral fellows and professors. There’s no immediate word on how long it will take before the test will be available commercially.