While we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready (which won’t likely happen for the next 12-18 months), we need to get prepared for what some people have called the ‘new normal’. This novel model of society, with different rules of behaviour and social organisation, will include different degrees of social distancing, contact tracing and disease monitoring at population scale. And this ‘new normal’ could be in place until as late as 2024.
A fundamental pillar of the post-lockdown world and the back-to-work strategy is the ability to implement mass testing for COVID-19. Most countries are currently lagging behind when it comes to scaling testing capacity. There are also questions about how this strategy could be successfully implemented at population scale and maintained for a long period of time. At Chronomics, we want to contribute to solving this problem and we have developed a COVID-19 saliva testing kit that has the characteristics required for mass testing:
- It is easy-to-use and painless. This is required for wide consumer adoption, especially if we need to test people that are asymptomatic. Unlike invasive nasopharyngeal swabs, our test works from a saliva sample easily collected by simply spitting in a tube.
- It can be decentralised and brought to people’s homes. If everyone needs to go to the hospital to get tested, the process is not cost-efficient. Furthermore, this also puts our frontline healthcare workers and the person getting tested at higher risk of infection. Our saliva collection kit can be shipped directly to people’s homes, courier collected and brought to our lab for testing. It is much easier to transport samples than people!
- It is super accurate. Even small errors at high numbers can have dangerous consequences in the context of an infectious disease. For example, a test that misses 6% of the infected people (i.e. has a sensitivity of 94%), if applied to 1,000,000 people would result in 60,000 people potentially going to work and spreading the disease. Our test, based on a protocol originally designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is incredibly sensitive (in a controlled lab environment it can detect a single copy of the virus), it is highly specific to SARS-CoV-2 (and won’t be confounded by other human viruses) and it will detect all strains of the virus that have evolved to date.
- It is scalable. The test allows for high-throughput processing of the samples. Our test utilises a protocol amenable to open-source automation, which can dramatically increase the number of samples tested per day. Furthermore, the delivery of results to the end user is done through an online dashboard, which leverages the scalability and engagement of tech platforms in the context of COVID-19 testing.
Dr. Daniel E. Martin-Herranz is the CSO and co-founder at Chronomics