One of the most commented issues since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the differences between different types of disease screening tests. Different types, with different procedures and more or less adequate depending on the objectives. Molecular techniques that detect the virus itself are the most suitable, for example, to measure the contagion capacity that a person may have due to the viral load (number of copies of the virus) that they have in their body. On the other hand, there are those of antibodies, which can observe the defense response of the organism, but not a greater or lesser presence of the virus, at least directly.
The difficulty of molecular detection, carried out through so-called PCR tests, causes the entire process to last several hours, which sometimes slows down the diagnostic capacity of the healthcare system. AMSlab group, based in Lugo (Galicia), and specialized in the biotechnology sector, has been working for two months on a kit that could accelerate this process, avoiding the use of laboratory techniques and confirming, with more than 95% reliability, the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in patient samples. The project was selected by the Galician Innovation Agency, of the ‘Consellería’ of Economy, Employment and Industry of the Xunta de Galicia, in its line of financing solutions developed in the country to deal with the pandemic.
Manuel Lolo, CEO of AMSlab, clarifies that the test “is not a quantitative method“, that is, “it does not measure the amount of viral load that a person can have”, but it does guarantee a quick result that would allow, for example, doing a faster and more secure shot in spaces such as nursing homes and hospitals. The kit somehow fills the gap that could be (and the consequent risk) if a contagion is not detected in a residence in the first days of infection, and that antibody tests could not observe since there was not yet immune response.
“The device would work with a nasopharyngeal exudate and through colorimetry; that is, if after collecting the sample of fluid from the patient’s airways in the reactive band, it would change color if it tested positive. It has already been successfully tested in the laboratory, and now we have to adapt it for use, so that anyone can do it without specialized training in diagnostic techniques, and looking for the necessary suppliers to make it commercially viable”, Lolo explains. AMSlab is also in talks with the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, responsible for giving the go-ahead for these tests, to validate their use and, if things go well, to be able to manufacture and use it as soon as possible.
In this way, the number of molecular tests can be increased, without taking the samples to the lab, analyze them and waiting for the results, which will speed up the notification of positives and the measures that would activate the detection of cases in spaces such as residences in case of a possible regrowth. “What is intended with this device in particular is to transfer the PCR analysis to the first phase of patient evaluation,” summarizes Manuel Lolo.
According to the AMSlab manager, the entire manufacturing process would take place in Galicia. “We are committed to doing it here,” says Lolo. Once the peak of the crisis is over, which brought with it numerous difficulties in accessing some critical compounds, as well as transportation problems from production centers, the current situation is already making it easier to obtain the precise material. In addition, Gain’s financing, second explains Lolo, “is going to help us dedicate more resources to obtain faster results”.