Searching for a Covid-19 Testing Breakthrough

Covid-19 is a rapidly changing target; check back here for frequent updates.

Today it seems that everybody is looking for ways to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, from searching for treatments and vaccines to improved testing methods. In the area of testing for Covid-19, the US federal government is working on several fronts to find the best way forward.

In an interview with NBC News on April 26, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, made a statement about where our country needs to go to take the next step in Covid-19 testing. According to Dr. Birx, "We have to have a breakthrough. This RNA testing will carry us, certainly, through the spring and summer but we need to have a huge technology breakthrough...". She then pointed out "...I think also just for ease of use, finding out we can do antigen-type testing like they do with flu...can be used with screening tests and then you can do the actual RNA testing for a confirmatory test. [This] allows you to screen large numbers of individuals quickly."

One organization that is helping to fund the development of Covid19 diagonsitic tests is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. According to their website, "BARDA has a proven track record of responding to pandemics and developing lifesaving medical countermeasures. We are rapidly executing new partnerships and building a robust COVID-19 MCM Portfolio because Americans deserve to have safe, effective medical products." The companies BARDA is funding to develop Covid-19 diagonsitic tests, both using nanotechnology and other technologies, are listed here.

As of early May, here are some companies that are using nanotechnology to develop new Covid-19 diagonstic tests; approaches are being funded by BARDA and other international sources:

Sona Nanotech of Canada is developing a diagnostic test for Covid-19 antigens that uses gold nanorods. "Sona will integrate its proprietary nanorod technology into a disposable lateral flow test platform (similar to pregnancy tests that can be administered without skilled technicians or additional laboratory equipment) for use as a screening tool to help triage individuals." The test is expected to provide results in about 5 to 15 minutes and won't require lab analysis. As of this writing, Sona Nanotech has pre-orders for over 3 million test units.

Nanomix has recieved funding of $569,627 from BARDA to develop a Covid-19 antigen test. Nanomix states that "These funds support development and testng of COVID-19 point-of-care tests that will run on the Nanomix eLab analyzer, which provides results in less than 15 minutes." The Nanomix eLab analyer uses carbon nanostructure-based sensors.

Hememics Biotechnology has recieved funding of $638,000 from BARDA to develop a Covid-19 antigen test using a cell phone-sized diagnostic tool which uses nanotube-based sensors. "HEMEMICS has developed a diagnostic test platform that can yield sensitive, selective, and measurable signals in response to specific antibodies and antigens in 60 seconds or less with a single nasal swab or drop of blood. Testing is simple and could be administered by any health care worker, anywhere: [in] ambulances, emergency rooms, community clinics, and makeshift hospitals."

OraSure has gotten $710,310 from BARDA to develop a Covid-19 antigen test using their OraQuick® system which uses gold nanoparticle based sensors. According to the company "Built on OraSure’s OraQuick® platform, the rapid test would allow for in-home self-testing by lay users as well as by medical professionals. OraSure’s portable rapid test platform uses an oral fluid sample and provides results in 20 minutes. No instrumentation or trained personnel would be needed to administer the test or to read the results."

Researchers at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Spain are using a nano-interferometric biosensor to develop a Covid-19 antigen point of use test. "Using photonics – technology that manipulates light – the ultrasensitive demonstrator could detect 'day 1' infections on patients who have a low viral load, representing a breakthrough in tackling the coronavirus pandemic." The venture is being funded by Horizon 2020, the European Commission's scientific research initiative.

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