Illumina Inc. and its partner, venture capital-backed IDbyDNA Inc., are introducing a new test that can tell if someone is infected with Covid-19, the flu or another respiratory disease. It could also be an early warning system for the next epidemic.
The testing panel will use Illumina’s next-generation sequencing, the same technology used for the human genome, and will test for almost 300 pathogens.
IDbyDNA provides the bioinformatics software to analyze the data. The test, called Respiratory Pathogen ID/AMR Target Enrichment Panel, will be made available for research purposes only. If there are plans to expand into commercial markets, the companies are keeping them under wraps for now.
More widespread testing could be the key to ending the pandemic. To that end, the Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorizations to hundreds of tests for active cases of the disease as well as for antibody testing. But this fall could bring a new wrinkle, a resurgence in Covid cases as well as the seasonal flu, which scientists warn could become a “twindemic.”
“Surveillance of these respiratory infections, through analysis with the panel in the research setting, could help public health officials distinguish between the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of seasonal flu among a population,” Phil Febbo, Illumina’s chief medical officer, said in an email.
“Of course, both of these infections require very different approaches to treatment,” he added. It could also help public health researchers understand if traditional flu infections are of the type that are resistant to antibiotic treatment.
IDbyDNA and Illumina are not the first to have a test to identify both flu and Covid infections. Quidel Corp.’s test, called Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA, won FDA authorization in May. But antigen tests like Quidel’s Sofia are cheaper at the expense of accuracy compared to sequencing.
Sequencing tests can also yield answers that antigen tests can’t, says Robert Schlaberg, IDbyDNA’s co-founder and chief medical officer said by phone. This test can answer “what does my patient have? Rather than just: does my patient have Covid?” he said.
“The pandemic has shown that we’re not sufficiently prepared to detect threats early and then respond and scale up testing quickly,” Schlaberg said. The Respiratory Pathogen panel could be broad enough to be used immediately. A “new test won’t need to be developed, you can use the existing genomics technology to find the new pathogen.”
This announcement was originally published in Bloomberg. Read it here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-15/illumina-vc-firm-launch-dna-test-that-may-find-next-epidemic