HELSINKI, Finland—Last month, VTT Research Center of Finland announced a partnership with Meilahti Vaccine Research Center (MeVac) to develop a rapid test for coronavirus using a new test method based on the detection of viral antigens in nasopharyngeal samples for the COVID-19 virus. With this test, the companies are hoping to provide healthcare professionals with an accurate, fast and resource-efficient method of detecting coronavirus infections early. Using the new test, results would be returned in 15 minutes or less, and would be considerably more cost-efficient than current testing methods.
“As the situation with the epidemic began to worsen internationally, we started looking for solutions within our area of excellence. We have expertise in antibody development and production as well as previous experience in designing diagnostic tests. It was an easy decision for us to start working on the COVID-19 antibody,” says Dr. Leena Hakalahti, research team leader for biosensors at VTT.
HUS Helsinki University Hospital’s research is also playing an important role by investigating antibody development, as well as providing the samples taken from COVID-19 patients for use in the development of the rapid test. In cooperation with the team at VTT, this project is being led by Olli Vapalahti, professor of virology at the University of Helsinki, and Anu Kantele, director of MeVac Vaccine Research Center and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Helsinki. The team also believes this development could further aid the fight against COVID-19.
“As the research progresses, we will explore the possibility of using the developed antibodies not only for testing, but also for the treatment of coronavirus disease,” noted Vapalahti.
VTT originally began the research to develop new antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 virus antigens with internal funding, but the project is now actively seeking additional funding and partners for the development of the rapid test. While work on the rapid test now focuses specifically on COVID-19, once the rapid testing technology is completed, the same development process could easily be used to diagnose other viruses.
“Increasing the testing capacity plays a key role in monitoring the progress of the epidemic, but current testing methods require a lot of time and resources which limits the capacity. The purpose of the rapid test is to enable growing the testing capacity and ensuring the availability of tests even as the epidemic continues,” commented Dr. Jussi Paakkari, research area vice president at VTT.
Diagnostics and digital health are VTT’s core areas of expertise, with approximately 80 people working on related topics across Finland. VTT also has extensive experience in designing tailored diagnostic tools for various diseases, and its technology portfolio includes everything needed to develop single-use diagnostic tools and systems. The company is able to combine antibody expertise, mass production of test strips and powerful data analytics. The manufacturing of the COVID-19 tests and their analysis equipment would be done in Finland by VTT and Finnish companies, but this test has the ability to serve communities worldwide. VTT expects the first versions of the test to be available in the fall.