Responding to limitations in current testing methods, health care companies around the world are racing to produce new point-of-care diagnostic systems that can quickly detect the presence of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
All of the existing devices used to diagnose COVID-19 cases, including Roche's system heralded by President Donald Trump on Friday and a second one from Thermo-Fisher Scientific, are laboratory-based systems that require central analyzers located in major hospitals and labs.
Although such systems can be highly accurate, they can require 6 hours to generate a result and 24 to 48 hours if the patients' sample needs to be transported to a central lab for processing -- lags in which patients may continue spreading the virus.
There's also a biological delay. The COVID-19 virus takes more time than past viruses to build up enough genetic material that is detectable with a lab-based test. That means a person may be contagious before the virus is detectable with traditional systems.
"Usually, you'd be able to detect it pretty close to when symptoms appear, for most viruses," said David Deetz, CEO of St. Paul's Ativa Medical, which is developing a point-of-care test for COVID-19 that is still months from commercial release. "That's why no one can contain this thing. … You become contagious early, and can't detect it until late. That's the main problem."
More than a dozen companies including Ativa are working on point-of-care systems that could offer rapid early detection of COVID-19, said Divyaa Ravishankar, a global product marketing manager with St. Louis Park-based health-research organization NAMSA.
No such system is approved in the U.S. today. But like other point-of-care tools used to detect illnesses, a quick test for COVID-19 would likely offer a trade-off between accuracy and speed, Ravishankar said.
Such a system could offer a result while the patient is still in the clinic, or standing in the entryway at a nursing home. Eventually it could be available over the counter at pharmacies, like an HIV test. But the result would not be definitive -- anyone who tested positive with a point-of-care test would likely need a full lab test to confirm the result.
"Most of the point-of-care systems are typically like a screening tool," Ravishankar said.
Kris Ehresmann, director of the infection disease division at the Minnesota Department of Health, said Sunday that the public has gotten conflicting messages regarding testing for COVID-19.
"The goal for everyone to have access to testing is aspirational," Ehresmann said Sunday. "The global demand for many of the components that are necessary to test for it is obviously extremely high … We'd like to have more testing, but it is really not possible."
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779
(c)2020 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.