A new COVID-19 test that can quickly determine if an individual has been previously infected with the coronavirus is now available at Singapore hospitals.

(Photo : REUTERS/Vincent West)
A fisherman takes a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), before heading to sea in Ondarroa, Spain, May 15, 2020.

The cPass serology study, released on Friday (May 15), detects antibodies produced by the body to fend off COVID-19 infections in patients' blood or serum.

It is not used for aggressive infection checkups. Instead, its primary purpose is to monitor interactions, identify asymptomatic cases, and determine the immunity of herds. These serological tests were used to map contacts in Singapore.

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What makes it unique from other tests?

What's unique about the latest test produced by Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore is that it delivers results in just one hour rather than days, a world's first.

The test looks for the presence of neutralizing antibodies, which can block the COVID-19-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Professor Wong Linfa, director of the Duke-NUS' Emerging Infectious Diseases program and the principal investigator for the test, told CNA neutralizing antibodies equal protection is the best indicator of protection in most cases.

cPass "can be used for contact tracing, reservoir or intermediate animal tracking, assessment of herd immunity, the longevity of protective immunity and efficacy of different vaccine candidates," said Linfa.

Other advantages the cPass test has besides a fast turnaround are protection and scalability. "It fills a space in the market where no solution exists," said Dr. Sidney Yee, chief executive of the science agency's Diagnostics Development Hub.

Current antibody neutralization tests include a live virus and cell samples. These are handled in biocontainment facilities by highly trained operators. The latest research replicates a part of the virus and a part of a live cell that attaches to each other, using protein engineering.

"Basically, what is happening in your body, we have mimicked in a test tube with two engineered proteins," said Wong.

In other words, the test can be mass-produced. In can be used to monitor a vast number of people quicker, and carried out in most laboratories without exposing laboratory operators to live viruses, experts said.

In just two months?

Professor Wang said his team took less than two months to finish the process before the provisional test kit was approved last week.

GenScript was the proof of concept testing, product design, and development by the biotech company and is now selling the study. The Singapore Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD) validated the test kit and developed the manufacturing protocol and quality controls for it.

DxD Hub will also produce the pilot batch to be used in hospitals in Singapore.

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Dr. Zhu Li, GenScript's Chief Strategy Officer, said applications for test approval are already being filed in Europe. In anticipation of demand, the United States has established production capacity in China and the United States.

"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," he said

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