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13 July, 2020 - 11:30 By Tony Quested

Avacta helps create COVID-19 hotspot detection in wastewater

An international consortium including Cambridge’s Avacta plc is developing and rolling out a wastewater detection system that represents a groundbreaking initiative for control of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The innovation deploys Avacta’s affirmers, Irish company Integumen’s real-time alert system and global player Modern Water’s Microtox system, which can detect the presence of contaminating bacteria, virus and toxins with a global footprint of over 3,000 installations. Modern Water has major bases in London, the US and China.

More than 60 per cent of COVID-19 positive patients had gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and the SARS-COV-2 virus was found in their faecal samples. 

Sampling wastewater from households may therefore provide an early warning system for localised outbreaks in communities.

The Avacta affimers have the potential to play a key role in the real-time identification of localised COVID-19 hotspots in wastewater, from which authorities can be alerted through Integumen’s real-time alert system to prevent the spread of the disease to the wider community. Each party is responsible for its own costs in respect of the evaluation.

Once initial testing on the Affimers is completed over the next few weeks, validation of the sensors on the real SARS-CoV-2 virus will be carried out at the containment level 3 (CL3) laboratory in the University of Aberdeen.

Upon successful completion of the evaluation, Integumen and Avacta will enter into a supply agreement for the supply of Affimers into Integumen’s sensors which will initially be integrated and retrofitted into Modern Water plc’s Microtox water contamination system units to detect the coronavirus. The Microtox system can detect the presence of contaminating bacteria, virus and toxins but not yet identify them.

Dr Alastair Smith, CEO of Avacta plc, said: “I am very pleased to be entering into this collaboration with Integumen which holds substantial commercial potential for an Affimer-based consumable SARS-COV-2 detector unit to retrofit into the large global installed based of Microtox systems. 

“Affimer reagents are ideal for applications such as this not only because of their sensitivity and specificity but also because of their robustness which is essential when being deployed in real-world situations like real-time waste-water analysis.

“With the spread of COVID-19 continuing to accelerate globally, we are proud to work with partners like Integumen to provide our Affimer reagents for development on a range of platforms to combat the pandemic. 

“This collaboration has the potential to deliver a product that will play a crucial role in the early detection of COVID-19 hotspots around the world.”

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