Quicker diagnosis with S'pore firm's new PCR test kit

Processing time cut by 40 minutes; firm also develops kit that detects Covid-19 using saliva

The ZeroPrep Saliva Collection Kit (above), which requires 1ml of saliva collected in a funnel, and the VereRT Covid-19 PCR Kit (below). Both kits have achieved a 99 per cent accuracy rate in testing for Covid-19.
The ZeroPrep Saliva Collection Kit (above), which requires 1ml of saliva collected in a funnel, and the VereRT Covid-19 PCR Kit. Both kits have achieved a 99 per cent accuracy rate in testing for Covid-19.ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG
The ZeroPrep Saliva Collection Kit (above), which requires 1ml of saliva collected in a funnel, and the VereRT Covid-19 PCR Kit (below). Both kits have achieved a 99 per cent accuracy rate in testing for Covid-19.
The ZeroPrep Saliva Collection Kit, which requires 1ml of saliva collected in a funnel, and the VereRT Covid-19 PCR Kit (above). Both kits have achieved a 99 per cent accuracy rate in testing for Covid-19.ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

A Covid-19 test kit which greatly reduces the time needed to diagnose a patient was launched by homegrown biotech company Veredus Laboratories yesterday.

Using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing process, the VereRT Covid-19 PCR Kit makes it possible to detect the virus directly from the sample, without having to extract its viral ribonucleic acid (RNA).

A specially formulated preservation buffer is added to the sample to stabilise and preserve the viral RNA, resulting in time saved of around 40 minutes and reducing the total processing time of the test to 90 minutes.

A PCR test entails a two-step process of extracting the viral RNA before amplifying the DNA to identify the Sars-CoV-2 virus. It typically takes more than two hours.

The new test requires 10 copies of RNA from the viral sample in order to detect the virus.

The company said this was comparable to most traditional PCR test kits in the market.

The test kit has obtained provisional authorisation from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for supply to hospitals and clinics for use on patients to diagnose Covid-19.

Using the same PCR method, the ZeroPrep Saliva Collection Kit from the same company is able to test for Covid-19 directly by taking saliva samples from the patient.

Veredus Laboratories chief executive Rosemary Tan said: "Saliva testing can be self-administered. Unlike swab tests, it does not require trained medical personnel to perform the swabbing procedure and it is a non-invasive method for those who feel uncomfortable with being swabbed."

Patients have to collect 1ml of their spit in a funnel, which is later mixed with a solution to preserve the RNA of the virus.

The saliva test kit, however, has a lower sensitivity rate when compared with the nasopharyngeal swab test kit, though it can still detect asymptomatic patients, said Dr Tan. The saliva test requires at least 25 RNA copies in the sample to detect the virus.

It is currently pending approval from HSA for local use, but Veredus Laboratories has set its sights on exporting the kit to markets where saliva testing has been authorised, like Japan.

Both test kits have achieved a 99 per cent accuracy rate in testing for Covid-19.

Dr Tan said: "This method of direct Covid-19 testing is the next step for us as we seek to increase the testing capacity of healthcare authorities and laboratories by reducing workflow complexity in Covid-19 molecular testing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2020, with the headline 'Quicker diagnosis with S'pore firm's new PCR test kit'. Print Edition | Subscribe