New national research programme will evaluate coronavirus tests in hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes

Testing for coronavirus infection could become quicker, more convenient and more accurate, following the launch of a multicentre national programme of research that will evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in hospitals, general practices and care homes.

Determining who has been infected with the novel coronavirus is a key part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting quick and accurate test results when people show symptoms ensures that they receive appropriate care and reduces the chance of the disease being passed on.

The main test currently used to detect coronavirus infection (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction [RT-PCR]) often involves sending samples away to laboratories, which can take up to 72 hours to provide results.

The life sciences industry has rapidly responded to the pandemic by developing brand new diagnostic tests both to detect current coronavirus infection and to find out if someone has previously been infected. These new tests – some of which may be able to provide near immediate results at the bedside in hospitals, in GP surgeries or during home visits – have the potential to increase the speed and convenience of testing.

However, many of these new diagnostic tests have yet to be thoroughly evaluated in the settings where they’re likely to be used.

The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) – funded by the National Institute for Health Research, UK Research and Innovation, and Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation – will create a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings. This programme of research brings together experts who are highly experienced in evaluating diagnostic tests and generating the robust evidence required for a test to be used in the NHS.

Experts at the University of Nottingham are part of the research programme, which is led by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford, in collaboration with four NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) – NIHR Community Healthcare MIC, NIHR Leeds MIC, NIHR London MIC and the NIHR Newcastle MIC – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s Diagnostics and Technology Accelerator (DiTA), Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, and the National Measurement Laboratory, hosted at LGC.

I’m very excited that we have been able to make validating point of care tests for COVID within care homes a priority within the CONDOR study. Care home residents have been affected by COVID more severely than any other population group. The ability to identify those with COVID more quickly, to ensure that they get more prompt support, and that care homes can institute infection control measures more quickly, could revolutionise COVID care within care homes as the pandemic continues.”

Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “We need the fastest, most accurate tests in the NHS to help keep COVID-19 under control.

“I’m delighted we’re committing £1.3 million to this brilliant new national research programme, to evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in health and social care settings – so we can track levels of infection and immunity across the country and help keep people safe.”

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The life sciences industry is developing faster and more accurate SARS-CoV-2 tests, but we need to know if they work as well in the difficulties of real-world settings as they do in a controlled lab environment.

“The CONDOR platform will put the new tests through their paces. The best ones can then be chosen for deployment in healthcare settings, care homes and the community, boosting our ability to detect and control the virus that causes COVID-19.”

This study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care, to expedite its delivery in the health and care system.

The research will be supported by the expertise of NIHR MICs, existing teams in NHS organisations and universities that work with companies and specialise in evaluating, and generating high quality evidence on, in vitro diagnostic tests.

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