A better test for COVID-19

Digital PCR solution cuts down on false negatives, may help in clinical trials

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PARIS—Recently, Stilla Technologies announced that its digital PCR solution, the Naica system, is readily available to all research centers and hospitals involved in the fight against COVID-19.
Currently, SARS-CoV-2 infections are being diagnosed through a method called real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which can fail to detect lower viral loads. This happens in cases where patients are mildly infected or in cases of defective sampling, causing some COVID-19 patients to test negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Naica System reportedly offers a more accurate and sensitive method than RT-PCR, making it possible to cut down on the false negative results that currently hamper efforts to contain the re-emergence of the disease.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 15 key Chinese institutions (the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University and others) have been using the solution developed by Stilla Technologies, and reportedly have been able to successfully carry out advanced testing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in more than 1,200 samples from patients for whom RT-PCR tests were giving unsatisfying results. This, as well as the rapid launch of the Naica System, was made possible by investor TusPark Holdings and a collaboration with ApexBio/Cycloud.
“We are proud to be part of the fight against COVID-19. Our close collaboration with Apexbio, our partner in China, allowed us to quickly develop a solution to detect COVID-19 through digital PCR, by using our Naica system. This solution was launched last February by Apexbio in China and in mid-March by Stilla in Europe,” said Rémi Dangla, co-founder and CEO of Stilla Technologies.
ApexBio/Cycloud, which has been on the front line since the beginning of the outbreak in China, has been using the Naica System for years and quickly saw the benefits of digital PCR over standard RT-PCR. Stilla Technologies donated a total of three Naica systems to China, and these and other systems deployed there before and during the outbreak allowed advanced testing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2.
In addition to more accurate testing, Stilla also hopes the Naica System can benefit clinical trials for treatments of COVID-19 by providing a reliable and precise monitoring of the viral load in patients. Compared to standard RT-PCR, the quantification of the virus is said to be absolute and reproducible, across patients and across test sites, without the need for reference material and standard curves. The company’s ongoing developments aim to provide a complete solution which can detect a high number of samples to support the current end of lockdown strategies and monitor the disease.
“Naica digital PCR is easy to use and provides higher sensitivity and reliability. We installed one Naica system in early March, and we use it for COVID-19 testing,” said a customer in the Hunan CDC.
“We have one Naica system and we use it for COVID-19 research at this moment to help [with] defeating infections,” reported another customer at the Virology Institute.
The Naica System is a highly sensitive digital PCR solution that runs on the company’s next-generation genetic testing and nucleic acid quantification technology, Crystal Digital PCR, with the ability to characterize multiple types of nucleic acids with its three-color detection capability. Its ease of use and fastest time to results, about two hours and 30 minutes. set this innovative technology apart in the digital PCR market, according to Stilla.
The Naica System has been adopted by researchers and clinicians around the world to develop a wide range of genetic tests and molecular biology assays, including liquid biopsy tests for cancer diagnostics, infectious diseases, prenatal testing, oncology and infectious diseases. In the pharmaceutical industry, the Naica system can be used as a tool for quality control during the different stages of drug manufacturing. At the moment, the Naica system is mainly being used for research, but Stilla has plans to expand its use to diagnosis. Stilla aims to make dPCR a lab commodity for all areas of the life sciences. As an added bonus, the company actively advises and supports its customers worldwide with a multidisciplinary R&D team that boasts expertise spanning from microfluidics to chemistry, including molecular biology and artificial intelligence.
The Stilla/ApexBio partnership began a few years ago when Stilla was looking for distributors in Asia. Apexbio has experience in life-sciences instrumentation, and they were already experienced with digital PCR. This collaboration has made China Stilla’s second largest market. In addition, Stilla has partnerships with several companies in Europe and the United States, including Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou (HEGP) and Hôpital Bîchat, that are deeply involved in the COVID-19 fight.
“The clear advantage of dPCR over conventional RT-PCR techniques, in terms of sensitivity and reliable viral load measuring, could be a key asset in the virological exploration of COVID19,” said Dr. Hélène Père, from the Department of Microbiology of HEGP.

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