A Safer, Cheaper & Faster SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus testing method, if approved, can scale up testing capacity by three-fold immediately, says Dr Rakesh Mishra, director of CSIR-CCMB (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology).
Current methods of RT-qPCR (Real-time polymerase quantitative chain reaction) testing are done in the form of swabs from samples received in Viral Transport Medium (VTM) followed by RNA extraction and RT-qPCR. Now, CSIR-CCMB (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) has generated a simplified protocol for this test where dry swabs are collected and directly used for RT-qPCR. This method has been established to have no loss of sensitivity and is at par with the current gold standard of testing.
Given this simplification, the method becomes safer as there is no liquid sample handling and leakage and fear of contamination for the persons handling the sample in BSL-3 (Biosafety Level) facilities, says Dr Rakesh Mishra, director of CSIR-CCMB (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology).
"It is also faster by about 5 hours as there is no RNA extraction and VTM containing tube handling. Further, it is cheaper too as there is no RNA extraction and no VTM, correspondingly less manpower is needed," he said.
In addition to this, the major bottleneck in testing today is the process of RNA extraction, because of time and manpower constraints, said Dr Mishra. Removal of this step can improve the capacity of testing by about threefold, without any additional inputs.
This method, Dry Swab Direct RT-qPCR, is under consideration with ICMR and appropriate advisory is expected soon which will help in getting more tests done at much lower costs and give us a better chance at managing the pandemic.
"India is doing 2 lakh tests per day as more than that will require extra funds, setup of test labs and, more importantly trained manpower, which is not there. If our method is used, we can triple that capacity within (and less than) currently used resources (manpower, labs, and even the money)," said Dr Mishra.
This means India can do more than 6 lakh tests per day, which translates to more testing with less cost-savings of Rs 150 crore per day - compared to the current status, he said.
"Considering that we are expected to use these tests for the next six months, we estimate a financial gain of about Rs 12420 crores by this intervention
For the next 6 months with the current situation, we will be testing 12 lakh people at the recurring cost of Rs 5400 crore. Dry swab method will allow testing of more than 36 lakh people with recurring cost of Rs. 3740 crores. Our method does not need any new reagent, equipment or training. What it says is: do differently, in a simpler manner, and skip a few items and steps," said Dr Mishra.
He added that this method is the need of the day and a quick approval would save valuable resources at this crucial time and tests can be made available without having to spend any extra effort/resources.