COVID-19 tools to help fight new variant

rapid COVID_19 tests detect new variant

Date: 6th January 2021

The world is anxiously watching the UK battle a new, more contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus, which first emerged in the southeast of England, and is rapidly spreading across the country.  Today, has seen the announcement from two companies, JOYSBIO and ZandCell, that they each have rapid COVID-19 tests that are capable of recognising the new mutated version of SARS-CoV-2.

The new variant contains multiple mutations and was first detected in September 2020, in the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Laboratory, UK.  The mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 has an altered receptor binding domain, situated on the spike protein of the virus, which allows easier access to the ACE2 receptor in human cells.  The new coronavirus strain, referred to as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, Variant of Concern 202012/01, VOC-202012/01, or lineage B.1.1.7, is becoming the dominant form in the UK, and has driven a national lockdown in an effort to slow transmission.

JOYSBIO Biotechnology Co, based in Tianjin, China, announced today that their SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test Kit is capable of detecting the new coronavirus strain.  The test is a lateral flow immunoassay, and produces accurate results in ~ 15 minutes.  It is designed to be easy to administer as a saliva test – using a small nasal swab.  The test is CE-IVD marked, and JOYSBIO is currently applying for WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) and US FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

ZandCell, a biotech company based in Stockholm, Sweden, have also announced today that they have a range of COVID-19 antigen diagnostic test kits, that can detect the new SARS-COV-2 strain.  CEO of ZandCell, Michael Zand, has offered his company’s help and test devices to the people and the country of UK. They can produce 70 million tests in 30 days for use in the UK, which equates to the whole population.   Their tests use a triple molecular detection method and are sensitive against the VUI 202012/01 variant, as the tests do not detect the spike protein.

Of note, ZandCell also say that their tests recognise another SARS-CoV-2 variant – the 501.V2 variant, also known as 501.V2, 20C/501Y.V2 or B.1.351 lineage.  This has currently been detected in South Africa, and is raising concerns as is rapidly spreading, and unlike the UK variant, there are fairly substantial changes in the structure of spike protein – meaning it is potentially resistant to the current approved vaccines.

The UK government recently carried out their own rapid evaluation of the lateral flow tests that are currently in use across the country.  All five devices tested, detected the VUI 202012/01 variant, likely due to the fact they detect the nucleocapsid protein, located inside the virus, rather than the spike protein.

As new cases of the VUI 202012/01 variant have been now been detected in Europe, Australia and the US, the news that rapid, lateral flow devices can successfully detect such variants is indeed a relief.  Their use, in part for mass testing including in the school and home environment, should alongside other preventative control measures, provide another vital tool to help us fight this brutal pandemic.  As to how these new variants react to the vaccines is unfortunately a waiting game however, experts are predicting they should at least work on the VUI 202012/01 variant.

For more information please see the press release from JoyBio and ZandCell.