BOSTON — Throughout 2020, we have seen long lines at Massachusetts COVID testing sites and the wait for results can be several days.
State health officials say inexpensive COVID-19 tests, self-administered at home, will play a big role in putting this pandemic behind us. 25 Investigates found a local company and university are key players in developing these new testing tools and analyzing if they work.
The federal government has created a pipeline to fast track new virus testing technologies in the hopes of making testing more accessible to everyone, right at home
“COVID is definitely changed everything,” said Kevin Hrusovsky, the president and CEO of Quanterix Corporation in Billerica. “We are really scaling this thing very rapidly, much faster than this industry has ever scaled before.”
Hrusovsky believes his team’s technology will be a testing game changer.
“Most technologies basically cannot see the COVID when it’s incubating,” Hrusovsky said. “And so, the earlier you can see it the better chance you have of communicating to patients that they have it and they shouldn’t be spreading it.”
That, Quanterix says, is what happens inside their antigen sample analyzer called Simoa. The company says Simoa can detect the presence of the coronavirus in a sample collected from someone before they’re showing a single symptom.
“So, the idea would be to try to do home collection of a sample either a nasal swab or a dry blood spot or saliva, get that sample quickly courier it into the centralized laboratories, and then the next morning have the answer,” Hrusovsky said.
Work to get Simoa up and running beyond the Billerica lab is happening through the federally funded RADx program, or Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics.
The National Insititute of Health launched RADx last spring as the pandemic exploded in the U.S. It’s a rapid pipeline to get effective COVID-19 testing devices and analyzing technology out into the public.
“They really have to work in the real world,” said Laura Gibson MD, a physician at UMass Medical School in Worcester. Gibson also part of the RADx program, but on the other end of the pipeline. Her team is analyzing the new COVID testing technology.
“We want to know how they perform,” Gibson said.”But also their usability, meaning can participants use the device in a real-world setting.”
Gibson says the program’s goal is to develop different kinds of tests that can be used in as many different scenarios as possible; from determining if people can board airplanes or enter a sporting event, to at-home tests, to tests for people who are hearing or vision impaired.
“Everyone is again, similarly committed and excited to be part of the solution to getting more people tested.” Gibson believes accurate and accessible testing tools are necessary to control this pandemic.
“If we know who has the infection we can address it, if we don’t know who has the infection we can’t.”
Quanterix has submitted for emergency use authorization with the FDA. Longterm, the company believes their technology could be used to help early diagnose other diseases, including neurological and some cancers.
>> More from 25 Investigates: How will the COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in Mass.?
The feds gave Quanterix $2 million to start.
Then another $18 million to scale up their COVID antigen screening machine.
“A lot of our breakthrough is being able to see asymptomatically as well as in less invasive samples, the virus and we’re continuing to evolve,” Hrusovsky said.
Evolving and along with other possible breakthroughs could hopefully bring an end to long testing lines, delayed results, and ultimately the crippling impact of COVID-19.
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