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University of Oxford Develops Rapid Testing Technology for Coronavirus; Starts Clinical Trial of Potential Drug Treatments

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 31 Mar 2020
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Scientists from the University of Oxford’s (Oxford, UK) Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have developed a rapid testing technology for the novel corona virus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The new test is based on a technique which is capable of giving results in just half an hour as compared to 1.5 to 2 hours for previous viral RNA tests and does not need a complicated instrument.

The technology is also very sensitive which means that patients in the early stages of infection can be identified sooner, potentially helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The technology only requires a simple heat-block which maintains a constant temperature for RNA reverse transcription and DNA amplification, and the results can be read by the naked eye, making it potentially useful in rural area or community healthcare centers.

The technology has been validated with real clinical samples at Shenzhen Luohou People’s Hospital in China. Shenzhen Luohu People’s Hospital has applied the rapid detection kits on 16 clinic samples, including eight positives and eight negatives, which have been confirmed by conventional RT-PCR methods and other clinical evidence. The test results using the rapid detection kits were all successful and the Oxford scientists are now working to develop an integrated device so that the test can be used at clinics, airports, or even for home use.

“The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognize SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RNA and RNA fragments. The test has built-in checks to prevent false positives or negatives and the results have been highly accurate,” said Prof. Wei Huang who led the team of researchers.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Oxford have launched a new clinical trial to test the effects of potential drug treatments for patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and the first patients have been recruited. The Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial will provide doctors and the health service with information they need to determine which treatments should be used. The treatments initially included in the study have been recommended by an expert panel that advises the Chief Medical Officer in England. These are Lopinavir-Ritonavir, normally used to treat HIV, and the steroid dexamethasone, which is used in a wide range of conditions to reduce inflammation. The safety and side effects of both drugs are well known. In the future, the RECOVERY trial will be expanded to assess the impact of other potential treatments as they become available. Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and joining the trial will be allocated at random by computer to receive one of the two drugs being studied or no additional medication. This will enable researchers to see whether any of the possible new treatments are more or less effective than those currently used for patients with COVID-19.

“There is an urgent need for reliable evidence on the best care for patients with COVID-19. Providing possible new treatments through a well-designed clinical trial is the best way to get that evidence,” said Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and Chief Investigator for the trial. “Adults admitted to hospital with COVID-19 should be offered the opportunity to participate in this trial and contribute to improving care for everyone. All patients will receive the standard full medical care, regardless of which treatment group they are placed in.”

Additionally, a team of researchers from the Oxford Vaccine Group and Oxford's Jenner Institute who have been working on designing a vaccine since January this year have identified a vaccine candidate and are working towards the first clinical testing phase. A chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1), developed at Oxford’s Jenner Institute, was chosen as the most suitable vaccine technology for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as it can generate a strong immune response from one dose and it is not a replicating virus, so it cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual. This also makes it safer to give to children, the elderly and anyone with a pre-existing condition such as diabetes. Chimpanzee adenoviral vectors are a very well-studied vaccine type, having been used safely in thousands of subjects, from one week to 90 years of age, in vaccines targeting over 10 different diseases.

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