Feluda test kit to be made available in 8 metro cities

New Delhi Feluda, the indigenously developed testing kit for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) based on the gene-editing technology Crispr will be rolled out across eight centres of Apollo hospitals in eight metro cities, beginning with Delhi, people familiar with the matter said. The kit was launched by the Tata group in collaboration with the Apollo group of hospitals on Thursday.

The test kit would first become available in Apollo labs in Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, and Ahmedabad, people aware of the matter said, identifying the first week of December for the rollout. The Apollo group has 100 clinics and 75 labs nationwide, which will progressively adopt the new technology for testing.

The kit has been commercially branded as TataMD Check, and offers results within 45 minutes with accuracy levels comparable to the gold standard of Covid-19 tests: the RT-PCR method.

The new test will work by collecting a swab sample from which RNA is extracted and amplified using a thermocycler. The sample is then tested using a paper strip barcoded with the Cas-9 protein of the Crispr system, which recognises the genetic material of the Sars-CoV-2 virus . The strip displays lines to show whether a person has the virus that causes Covid-19, just like a home-based pregnancy testing kit.

The Tata MD Check will use an artificial intelligence based mobile application to capture a photograph of the test strip and give the results to eliminate errors. “Initially, the samples will be read both manually and with the AI technology just to be doubly sure. Eventually, the process can be completely automated,” said Chandrashekhar, CEO of Apollo Healthcare and Lifestyle Limited.

“RT-PCR tests have to be conducted in a batch and then every result has to be validated by a trained person, which takes time. In this, smaller number of samples can also be tested and the AI-based system means that the test can be quickly read and uploaded,” said Girish Krishnamurthy, CEO of Tata MD. “This is not just a test kit, it is a testing solution,” said Krishnamurthy.

The test results will also have photographs of the sample collected and the sample in the laboratory to increase transparency. The kits can be monitored at every level of transportation and a sensor on the packaging checks that they were stored at the right temperature.

“The addition of Tata MD Check as part of the testing arsenal will be a boost to the ongoing efforts against this pandemic. We are happy to further the cause of AatmaNirbhar Bharat in providing the launch pad for adoption of this indigenously developed test. Individuals can download Apollo 24/7 app with the benefit of availing reports within 2 hours,” said Dr Sangita Reddy, joint managing director, Apollo Hospitals.

Although the Tata Medical and Diagnostics Ltd (TataMD) did not give the actual cost to consumers, they maintained the price would comply with “government capping” for other molecular tests such as RT-PCR, CBNAAT or TrueNat.

The team of scientists that had developed the test at Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology had said that not only would the test be simpler and as accurate as RT-PCR but is likely to be cheaper than it. The new kit has a high sensitivity of 96% and specificity of 98%, meaning it can accurately detect both positive and negative cases. It was approved for use by the Indian Council of Medical Research in September.

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