SINGAPORE - Duke-NUS Medical School has come up with a Covid-19 test kit that takes just an hour, instead of the usual several days, to detect if someone has been infected before.
The new test can be used to see if potential vaccines work, to check what proportion of the population has already been infected, and for contact tracing, which is critical as Singapore eases up on circuit breaker measures.
It is available to hospitals here and is the first of its kind to single out specific antibodies - the weapon the human body harnesses against infection - that neutralise the coronavirus and prevent it from infecting a patient's cells, said the researchers.
When someone is infected with the virus, the body produces hundreds, if not thousands, of different antibodies, which bind with the virus and are known as binding antibodies.
However, not all of them can neutralise the virus. This is the role of neutralising antibodies.
The advantages of the new test over others being used currently are that it is fast, can single out such antibodies, and can be used in regular research or hospital settings rather then needing specialised expertise and equipment.
At a virtual press conference on Friday (May 15), the medical school announced that it will be co-developing and manufacturing the kit, known as cPass, with biotech company GenScript Biotech Corporation and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD Hub).
There are also plans to partner local biotech companies to increase the production of the test kits.
The test can be carried out in most research or clinical labs, said Duke-NUS.
Other Covid-19 tests for such antibodies require the use of live virus, cells, highly skilled operators, and complex laboratory procedures that are generally less sensitive and require several days to obtain results.
cPass was invented by a team led by Professor Wang Linfa, director of Duke-NUS' emerging infectious diseases programme. The team also carried out assay development and testing in Singapore.
Prof Wang said: "The cPass developed by our team can be used for contact tracing, reservoir or intermediate animal tracking, assessment of herd immunity, longevity of protective immunity and efficacy of different vaccine candidates.
"It does not require a biosafety containment facility, which makes it immediately accessible to the global community, including many developing nations."
DxD Hub validated the kit with clinical samples of patients who were enrolled in a study by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
It also developed the manufacturing protocol and quality controls to secure its provisional authorisation by the Health Sciences Authority.
DxD Hub will also be producing the pilot batch for use in Singapore hospitals. There are plans for this know-how to be transferred to local biotech companies for scaled-up production.
DxD Hub's chief executive, Dr Sidney Yee, said: "This innovative cPass diagnostic kit will be instrumental in supporting the fight against the global pandemic."
Finally, GenScript was responsible for proof-of-concept research, product design, and development and optimisation, and will now play a central role in the commercialisation process using its global network and manufacturing capacity to launch cPass in Singapore and around the world.
Professor Thomas Coffman, dean of Duke-NUS, said: "This innovative platform developed by our researchers will be extremely useful for quick and reliable surveillance to determine how widely a population has gained immunity to (the) Sars-CoV-2 virus.
"The partnership with GenScript and DxD Hub combines complementary strengths as we work together to fight this global outbreak."
Dr Zhu Li, chief strategy officer of GenScript, said: "The test results will be of great help to governments in guiding the resumption of work since it is extremely useful for quick and reliable surveillance to determine how widely a population has gained immunity to the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Detection of neutralising antibodies determines who can more safely go back to work or to more social life."