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Rapid POC Screening Technology Uses Artificial Glycan Receptor to Detect Coronavirus in 20 Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Mar 2020
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Iceni Diagnostics (Norwich, UK), a biotechnology company, is developing a new approach that identifies the virus not by its genetic code, which can mutate, but by using its reliance on chains of sugars which are constant and unchangeable. The existing prototype product for influenza can detect the virus in less than 20 minutes and could be adapted to identify other pathogens, such as the coronavirus.

Iceni Diagnostics is focused on the development of carbohydrate-based therapeutics and point-of-care diagnostics for infectious diseases. Capitalizing on its expertise in carbohydrate and analytical chemistry, it provides bespoke solutions in glycoscience R&D, nanoparticle technology and bioconjugation chemistry. Iceni Diagnostics is developing a portfolio of in-house programs, as well as engaging in collaborative and contract R&D activities, through engagement with the UK biotech sector and government research organizations. Its current projects include the development of novel point-of-care diagnostics and new chemical and enzymatic approaches to the production of carbohydrate-containing biopharmaceuticals.
Viruses typically invade the body through cells in the respiratory tract. These cells are covered in a coat of sugar chains, known as glycans, which are used to recognize beneficial substances. Viruses can utilize these glycans as part of the infection process. This process can also be used in reverse to identify the virus in saliva or nasal fluids. Iceni Diagnostics’ diagnostic technique uses an artificial glycan receptor to capture the virus.

Iceni Diagnostics has already developed a series of prototype products that can specifically detect pathogens such as Norovirus and different strains of influenza in less than 20 minutes. The most advanced product, for equine influenza, is performing well in early stage clinical trials. The hand-held device uses lateral flow – like a home pregnancy test – to give a simple yes/no answer. It requires no refrigeration and no training, meaning the test is usable in any location, by any person, in order to detect flu or other pathogens.

Iceni Diagnostics’ current products detect a single virus. However, the next generation of diagnostics will enable the detection and discrimination of a series of pathogens that give rise to similar symptoms. This would enable, for example, a distinction between flu and COVID-19 in a single sample, increasing the versatility and robustness of the diagnosis. Additionally, the way the virus interacts with its glycan receptor makes it seasonally consistent, so, even if the virus genetic code mutates, it will still be detected – meaning that Iceni Diagnostics’ test should remain effective indefinitely. In an industry dominated by protein/DNA technology the glycan-based platform offers opportunities for the development of novel medicines and tests.

“The Iceni Diagnostics approach uses glycan recognition, which is unaffected by seasonal variation in the genetic code, and can be offered as a handheld home or field-based test,” said Professor Rob Field, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the co-founder of Iceni Diagnostics. “This new approach, which is based on host-pathogen glycan recognition could potentially result in a more universal detection technique, crucial in early diagnostics of outbreaks.”

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