A glucometer-like device that can detect the level of antibodies against Covid-19, another that uses magnetic nanoparticles to collect virus fragments or antibodies from a sample within minutes, and a third the size of two stacked laptops that can perform molecular Covid-19 tests without trained manpower have all been developed in three to four months by startups supported under the department of science and technology’s CAWACH initiative.
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The three are being sent for validation to the Indian Council of Medical Research to see how they perform against existing tests. The Centre for Augmenting War with Covid-19 Health Crisis (CAWACH) was created in April, with a corpus of Rs 56 crore, for scouting, evaluating, and supporting innovations that can help in the government’s fight against the pandemic.
“In just three or four months, many of the startups supported by us have developed effective technologies to fight Covid-19 including ventilators, PPE kits and diagnostic kits that are now available in the market. This shows the power of collaboration. Through the CAWACH programme we were able to connect the dots in a timely manner and look at the big picture,” said Dr Anita Gupta, head of innovation and entrepreneurship at DST.
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One startup, PathShodh has developed an antibody testing device that can not only tell whether a person has antibodies against Covid-19 but also measure the concentration of the antibodies, something currently possible only in large laboratories.
“The test uses a small amount of blood that needs to be put on a paper strip just like in a glucometer. The strip then needs to be put in a small mobile phone-sized device that gives a digital reading of whether a person has antibodies against Covid-19 as well as the concentration of the antibodies within a few minutes,” said Dr Vinay Kumar, co-founder and director of PathShodh. The kit also detects the level of both IgM (the first antibody produced to fight off a new infection) and IgG (a specific antibody produced about 10 days later). Most antibody strips available in the market test only for the long-lasting IgG antibodies. The mobile phone like machine will also help in maintaining records of the patients that can be linked to their Aadhaar card or even Arogya Setu, the government’s contact tracing App.
The machine will cost about Rs 50,000 and the per test cost will be just Rs 450-500, Dr Kumar said.
Another portable device developed by Prantae Solutions OC uses magnetic nanoparticles to separate Covid-19 antibodies from a blood sample or the viral antigen (for current infection) from a swab sample. A reader then uses absorption spectrometry – a method that observes the absorption of radiation by the sample– to give results within a few minutes. “We are focusing more on the antibody testing that would be needed more and more as people start travelling and going to offices. It will tell them whether they have already had the infection, and currently re-infection is thought to be rare. The device will cost about Rs 20,000 and the per test cost will come to about Rs 300,” said Sumona Karjee Mishra, founder director of Prantae Solutions OC.
The Omix AMP test developed by the OmiX research and diagnostic laboratory uses a small portable device the size of two stacked laptops to carry out molecular test just like the gold standard RT PCR ones in small laboratories that might not have the expensive RT PCR machines. The results can be given in 1.5 hours. The test has been designed keeping in mind small neighbourhood laboratories and those in some primary health centres.
“The device we have developed eliminates the need for the expensive RT PCR machine, which very few labs across India have. All the reagents needed for the test also come in a dried form inside a test tube in which the extracted RNA and a solution has to be added. For the RT- PCR test, this mix of reagents has to be prepared by a trained person. The reagents needed for RT PCR also have to be transported at -20 degrees C as compared to our format which is stable at 35 degree C,” said Sudeshna Adak, founder and CEO of Omix research and diagnostic laboratory. The test is likely to have a sensitivity of over 95% and specificity of over 99%, meaning it can detect 95% of all positive cases and 99% of all negative samples correctly,Adak said.