Testing for coronavirus infection could become quicker, more convenient and more accurate, following the launch of a multicentre national programme of research that will evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in hospitals, general practices and care homes.
Determining who has been infected with the novel coronavirus is a key part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting quick and accurate test results when people show symptoms ensures that they receive appropriate care and reduces the chance of the disease being passed on.
The main test currently used to detect coronavirus infection often involves sending samples away to laboratories, which can take up to 72 hours to provide results.
The life sciences industry has now developed new diagnostic tests to detect current coronavirus infection and find out if someone has previously been infected. These new tests – some of which may be able to provide near immediate results at the bedside in hospitals, in GP surgeries or during home visits – have the potential to increase the speed and convenience of testing.
However, many of these new diagnostic tests have yet to be thoroughly evaluated in the settings where they’re likely to be used.
The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) – funded by the National Institute for Health Research, Asthma UK, UKRI and the British Lung Foundation – will create a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings.
Co-primary investigator Professor Gail Hayward, Associate Professor at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative, said: “While a new diagnostic test might work well in a lab under controlled conditions, there are many different factors that could make it less accurate when you take that test out of the lab and into the real world.
“Right now there’s a critical gap in how we road-test new diagnostics for COVID-19. By robustly evaluating these diagnostics in health and care settings, the CONDOR programme will help the government and clinicians to understand the real-world accuracy of these tests in patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms in the NHS.”
Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “We need the fastest, most accurate tests in the NHS to help keep COVID-19 under control.
“We’re committing £1.3 million to this brilliant new national research programme, to evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in health and social care settings – so we can track levels of infection and immunity across the country and help keep people safe.”
The programme is led by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford, in collaboration with four NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) – NIHR Community Healthcare MIC, NIHR Leeds MIC, NIHR London MIC and the NIHR Newcastle MIC – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s Diagnostics and Technology Accelerator (DiTA), the University of Nottingham, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, and the National Measurement Laboratory, hosted at LGC.
The research team will work with the government and its scientific advisors to identify which new commercially developed diagnostic tests could be most valuable in the NHS.
The effectiveness of these prioritised tests will then be evaluated in a number of possible health and care settings – emergency departments, critical care, acute medical care, primary care, care homes and hospital at home teams. The research will assess multiple diagnostic tests at once at sites across the country and can be adapted to add in new tests as they become available.
One application of CONDOR will be to follow up on patients who test positive with an antibody test, he adds, to find out whether they develop new infections, thus helping to understand whether people with antibodies are immune to reinfection and how long this immunity might last.