Thought Leadership: The Evolution of COVID-19 Diagnostics

by Arjun Oberoi

Since the first reported case of COVID-19 arose outside of China, it set the world on a whirlwind of changes and adaptation. This new phase of living with the pandemic has also created a wave of innovation and production in the In-Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) space. Industry experts from all around the world began the research and development of IVD tests and crucial laboratory parameters to manage the spread of COVID-19 and provide more suitable treatments to infected patients.

In the beginning stages, there was a large focus on the design, development, validation, and implementation of diagnostic tests. We witnessed the development of hundreds of molecular tests and immunoassays. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests became the mainstay to detect the presence of viral RNA early, even before symptoms showed and before the natural development of antibodies. Antibody tests were also developed to determine a person’s infection history and help understand epidemiological patterns.

By the early months of 2021, the second wave of COVID-19 had hit most countries, with some of the highest cases in India. This steep hike in the number of infections pushed many governments to roll out country-wide lockdowns and shutting down major parts of the economy. This trend created an even stronger demand to use virtual avenues to provide diagnostic and treatment services, which saw the widespread use of Antigen Rapid Tests (ART) as a screening tool. ART tests could be performed on site, fast, less invasive, and cheap. ARTs can now be sold directly to consumers in some countries, and we are seeing an evolution to more convenient collection methods. Newer collection methods like saliva, breath and even smell-based tests also indicate a trend where testing will be moved out of the lab and into the hands of the consumer or employer.

With a greater understanding of this pandemic and its complications, many specialists are also increasingly testing for additional biomarkers, such as Procalcitonin (PCT), Ferritin, and D-dimer, which are parameters known to be linked to the severity of infection.

  • PCT – An increased PCT value was shown to be related to a higher risk of developing a severe COVID-19 infection by fivefold. The early detection of a patient’s PCT value will help doctors provide a better diagnosis and hence a more appropriate treatment for the patient.
  • Ferritin – Many individuals with diabetes show elevated levels of serum ferritin and has been reported to be correlated to a higher risk of developing serious and even fatal complications from a COVID-19 infection.
  • D-dimer – This fibrin degradation product is shown to be commonly elevated in COVID-19 patients. The level of D-dimer in a patient is linked to the severity of the infection.

The COVID-19 vaccine was a game changer and the ticket to a new world where more and more of the population acquire some level of immunity to COVID-19.  Over 6.3Bn doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far, but that only represents about 40% of the global population. The vaccine does not fully eliminate the possibility of infection or the ability to infect. As a result, testing will remain vital and relevant, with new potential applications, even as vaccination rates increase throughout the world. Rapid neutralizing antibody tests can provide information about a person’s actual immunity to the virus, and support decision-making around delivery of vaccine boosters and a controlled re-opening of the travel and the economy

Everlife has made it a priority to keep up with the latest innovation and technology to provide our communities with the critical diagnostic tests they need to help combat the spread of COVID-19. We carry a comprehensive range of COVID-19 related products throughout the region, including:

  • Diagnostic RT-PCR and Rapid tests
  • Serology-based antibody assays
  • Screening ART tests
  • Tests for PCT, Ferritin and D-dimer and other biomarkers
  • RNA extraction kits, VTM tubes and other test supplies

More products are in the pipeline and moving forward, with proper protocols set in place to counter the virus, we are hopeful that COVID-19 can be managed just like the common flu. Continued rapid screening, comprehensive diagnostic processes and the close monitoring of patients post-recovery will be essential for us to keep the situation under control. The use of diagnostic tests on supplementary parameters will also be crucial to improving patient care. Healthcare manufacturers and providers must continue to make use of diagnostic tests to track the level of infection and keep up with new variants of the virus.