New 18-minute coronavirus test to be available by winter

Roche Diagnostics announced earlier this week that it is launching a high-volume antigen test for diagnosing coronavirus.

Roche Diagnostics immunochemistry analyser (photo credit: Courtesy)
Roche Diagnostics immunochemistry analyser
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel could soon have access to an 18-minute coronavirus test that would be run on the country’s existing Roche Diagnostics analyzer machines, which are available in almost every Health Fund and hospital lab.
Roche Diagnostics announced earlier this week that it is launching a high-volume antigen test for diagnosing coronavirus. It should be available by the end of 2020 in Israel, ahead of flu season, according to Jacob Mullerad, vice president of Gamidor, the sole representative of Roche Diagnostics in Israel. 
An antigen detects proteins that are structural or functional components of a pathogen and are thus very specific to that pathogen. In this case, the test would provide a qualitative “yes” or “no” answer regarding the presence of the pathogen in the patient sample. 
Mullerad explained that the test is taken like a standard PCR test, which detects the genetic information of the virus, the RNA. A swab is put inside the nose of the person being screened and then dropped into a liquid inside a test tube. From the time it is sent to the lab until a result can be transmitted via computerized message takes 18 minutes.
Israel has recently put a focus on obtaining faster coronavirus testing methods, in order to better open up the country but still ensure that infected people are quarantined and that their chain of connections are contacted and tested.
Earlier this month, Israel began using the FDA-approved Sofia coronavirus test, which is performed using only respiratory specimens collected from individuals who are suspected of having coronavirus. This innovative technology provides results within 15 minutes.
There is also a 30-second coronavirus test being jointly developed by Israel and India that is expected to be ready within weeks, according to Israeli Ambassador to India Ron Malka, who spoke to the Indian news agency PTI last week.
Mullerad said the advantage of the Roche test is that it works with existing machines in Israel, so there is no training or additional staff needed to run the results. It is also expected to be inexpensive and would allow hospitals and health funds to screen patients without having to house machinery inside their workspaces, like some other tests.
“Think of doctors in the emergency room,” Mullerad said. “Someone comes in during the month of December and he has a fever and a cough. You don’t know if it is flu or coronavirus… A PCR test takes a long time to develop. The antigen test is faster and the doctors and nurses can administer the test, send it to the lab and move onto the next patient. The answer comes directly through the computer.”
A Roche press release said the test will be available for countries accepting the CE Mark, which includes Israel. The company will also file for Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration.
“Israel needs to get ready for the winter,” Mullerad said.