Quicker, Cheaper Hope from India’s Paper-Based Test Called FELUDA

Covid test

A new paper-based test developed by the scientists in India has triggered hope for faster detection of the SARS CoV-2. Named FELUDA, after the famous Indian fictional detective, the test is inexpensive and boasts of better accuracy and its mass availability could play a crucial role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

FELUDA stands for FNCAS9 Editor-Limited Uniform Detection Assay. It has been developed by a team of scientists from the Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB).

“There is no paper or strip based assay in the market currently to detect COVID-19,” said Souvik Maiti, a scientist who was a part of the research team. “FELUDA is the only one which is strip-based test.”

The test will be made available for wide use by Tata Sons. The group signed an MoU with the CSIR-IGIB in May to license the know-how.

India caseload has crossed 6 million and the country now has the fastest-growing Covid-19 cases. The country is now carrying out more than a million tests daily, using two types of tests- the Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and the rapid antigen test. RT PCR which is considered to be the gold standard test for Covid-19 costs between Rs 1,600 ($21.81) to Rs 2,750 ($37.49) while the antigen tests cost around Rs 700 ($9.54). The new paper-based test will cost only Rs 500 ($6.82).

“FELUDA is a nucleic acid-based test, like RT-qPCR,” said Maiti. “It needs nasal and throat-based swab samples. RT-qPCR needs a sophisticated instrument to perform the test, whereas FELUDA needs a simple thermocycler which is 1/20th cost of the RT-qPCR machine. Moreover, FELUDA can be performed by semi-trained technicians.”

He said that the FELUDA tech has been transferred to Tata for commercial uses and its availability depends on their business plan

The indigenous FELUDA test uses cutting edge Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) technology for detection of the genomic sequence of novel coronavirus, said a release from the Press Information Bureau. “It uses a test protocol that is simple to administer and easy to interpret enabling results to be made available to the medical fraternity in relatively lesser time, as compared to other test protocols.”

It further added that the combination of “CRISPR biology and paper-strip chemistry leads to a visible signal readout on a paper strip that can be rapidly assessed for establishing the presence of viral infection in a sample.” The test results can be given in 45 minutes.

“The test definitely sounds like a game-changer and seems to hold a lot of promise,” said Mumbai-based microbiologist Dr. Jayanthi Shastri. “If a test gives out the report in merely 45 minutes, we will be far better equipped for the battle against Covid-19. Just think about the domestic or international travellers who can simply undergo this test and know their Covid-19 status.”

“It will be a great way to screen people, with accuracy, and help in curbing the spread of infection,” said Dr. Shastri, who heads the civic-run Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai. “The challenge will be to achieve massive scale production and maintain the quality of the testing kits. The batch-to-batch variability should not be there.”

Zenger News reached out to Tata Sons to know how soon the test will be available for widespread use. However, they did not respond to the query.

Health activist Dr. Abhijit More said that considering India’s daily caseload, the need of the hour is an accurate, cheap, easy test that can be accessed over the counter. “Just like the pregnancy kits, we need a Covid-19 test which people can buy and test at home,” said Dr. More.

In August, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the fifth saliva-based test for the rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2. “Testing saliva eliminates the need for nasopharyngeal swabs, which have also been prone to shortages, and alleviates the patient discomfort associated with these swabs,” a release from US-FDA read. “Since the saliva sample is self-collected under the observation of a healthcare professional, it could also potentially lower the risk posed to healthcare workers responsible for sample collection,” it added.

India too needs something simple like using the saliva for detecting the virus, said Dr More. “Collecting nasal and throat swabs require trained professionals. These are also painful and inconvenient for patients. It would be ideal to have a saliva-based testing kit.”

He said that such tests if made available at reasonable costs, can be repeated multiple times as per requirement. “Till we have a vaccine for Covid-19, the thrust is on better detection of the virus and isolating the infected individuals. An affordable and simple test can help us fight this battle.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Gaurab Dasgupta.)



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