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Barr Ellison Solicitors – commercial property
18 March, 2020 - 14:51 By Tony Quested

New home test could detect coronavirus in 20 minutes

A home test for flu designed to give an accurate diagnosis inside 20 minutes could be adapted to identify coronavirus.

The potential breakthrough has been identified by Iceni Diagnostics in Norwich.

Recognition of a sequence of sugars on the cells of its host is essential to the viability of a virus and this mechanism is used by Iceni technology. Sugar recognition overcomes the limitations of existing tests which need laboratory equipment and require knowledge of the viral genetic code. 

Viruses typically invade the body through cells in the respiratory tract. These cells are covered in a coat of sugar chains, known as glycans, which are used to recognise beneficial substances. Viruses can utilise these glycans as part of the infection process. This process can also be used in reverse to identify the virus in saliva or nasal fluids.

Professor Rob Field, a globally renowned expert in glycan science and director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, is the co-founder of Iceni Diagnostics; the biotech company is based on Norwich Research Park. The company has developed this diagnostic technique that uses an artificial glycan receptor to capture the virus.

Professor Field said: “Right now, everybody is talking about a vaccine for coronavirus but vaccine development, validation, safety-testing, manufacture, regulatory approval and deployment is a time-consuming process.

“A low-cost, easy to use screening test that can be performed at the point of care is an ideal way to limit initial disease transmission in the country or location of origin.

“Current COVID-19 tests are largely based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) that requires a laboratory setting for analysis and relies on prior knowledge of the viral genetic code. This code can change as the virus evolves, limiting the effectiveness of the test.

“The Iceni Diagnostics approach uses glycan recognition, which is unaffected by seasonal variation in the genetic code, and can be offered as a handheld home or field-based test.”

Iceni Diagnostics has already developed a series of prototype products that can specifically detect pathogens such as Norovirus and different strains of influenza in less than 20 minutes. The most advanced product, for equine influenza, is performing well in early stage clinical trials.

The hand-held device uses lateral flow – like a home pregnancy test – to give a simple yes/no answer. It requires no refrigeration and no training, meaning the test is usable in any location, by any person, in order to detect flu or other pathogens.

The current Iceni Diagnostics products detect a single virus. However, the next generation of diagnostics will enable the detection and discrimination of a series of pathogens that give rise to similar symptoms. 

This would enable, for example, a distinction between flu and COVID-19 in a single sample. This increases the versatility and robustness of the diagnosis.

Additionally, the way the virus interacts with its glycan receptor makes it seasonally consistent, so, even if the virus genetic code mutates, it will still be detected – meaning the Iceni Diagnostics’ test should remain effective indefinitely.

Professor Field says the device holds huge promise for changing the way we manage global disease: “This new approach, which is based on host-pathogen glycan recognition could potentially result in a more universal detection technique, crucial in early diagnostics of outbreaks.”

Iceni Diagnostics is currently in an investment round to support the validation and roll out the commercial launch of its initial product portfolio. It is also looking at additional funds from EU and BARDA.

In an industry dominated by protein/DNA technology the glycan-based platform offers opportunities for the development of novel medicines and tests. 

• Interested parties are invited to contact Iceni Diagnostics directly at

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