VTT has started work on a new testing method based on detection of viral antigens for the COVID-19-virus. The goal of the rapid test is to provide healthcare professionals with an accurate, fast, and resource-efficient method to detect coronavirus infections early. The development of the rapid test is carried out by VTT together with MeVac - Meilahti Vaccine Research Center. The project is also actively seeking Finnish companies to join the cooperation.
The rapid testing method is based on the detection of viral antigens in nasopharyngeal samples, and it will make it possible to diagnose COVID-19 at an early stage of the disease. The test is designed to be performed by health care personnel – at least in its first phase. The results, however, will be returned significantly faster than with existing tests, within 15 minutes or less. The new test would also be considerably more cost-efficient than current testing methods. The antibody development has already started at VTT, and the first versions of the test are expected during the fall.
”As the situation with the epidemic began to worsen internationally, we started looking for solutions within our area of excellence. We have expertise in antibody development and production as well as previous experience in designing diagnostic tests. It was an easy decision for us to start working on the COVID-19 antibody,” tells Dr. Leena Hakalahti, research team leader, Biosensors from VTT.
HUS Helsinki University Hospital’s research plays an important role in the antibody development, and the samples used in the research have been collected from patients that have had the coronavirus infection. The project is carried out in close cooperation with research groups led by professor of virology at the University of Helsinki, Olli Vapalahti and director of MeVac Vaccine Research Center, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Helsinki, Anu Kantele.
"As the research progresses, we will explore the possibility of using the developed antibodies not only for testing, but also for the treatment of coronavirus disease," says professor Vapalahti.
VTT started the research to develop new antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 virus antigens with internal funding, but the project now acutely seeks additional funding and partners for the development of the rapid test. The manufacturing of the tests and their analysis equipment could be done in Finland by VTT and Finnish companies, and in addition to responding to domestic needs, they could be sold internationally.
”Increasing the testing capacity plays a key role in monitoring the progress of the epidemic, but current testing methods require a lot of time and resources which limits the capacity. The purpose of the rapid test is to enable growing the testing capacity and ensuring the availability of tests even as the epidemic continues,” comments research area vice president Dr. Jussi Paakkari from VTT.
The work on the rapid test now focuses specifically on COVID-19, but once the rapid testing technology is completed, the same development process could be quickly applied to diagnose also other viruses.
Diagnostics and digital health are VTT’s core areas of expertise with approximately 80 people working on related topics across Finland in Oulu, Espoo, Tampere and Kuopio. VTT also has extensive experience in designing tailored diagnostic tools for various diseases. VTT’s technology portfolio includes everything needed to develop single use diagnostic tools and systems. VTT is able to combine antibody expertise, mass production of test strips and powerful data analytics.