A consortium of medical schools led by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are developing an epigenetic test for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 leveraging the microfluidics technology of Fluidigm.
The fast-track effort springs from the existing infrastructure in place from the U.S. Defense’s Departments Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), program that is developing tests using real-time PCR for host detection assays targeting epigenome and viral RNA for early-stage monitoring of potentially infected individuals. Dubbed the Epigenetic CHaracterization and Observation (ECHO) program, the consortium was established by the DoD as a preparedness measure against weapons of mass destruction.
The consortium led by the Icahn School of Medicine plans to submit the test for Emergency Use Authorization, in accordance with FDA guidelines, for a high-throughput screening assay for COVID-19 based on robust real-time PCR. It will employ the high-throughput sample processing capacity of the Biomark HD coupled with parallel multi-assay interrogation of microfluidics.
“Speed, scale and early detection are critical in addressing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ability to rapidly screen a large number of samples will enhance capabilities in identification and management of infected individuals, including those who are asymptomatic,” said Chris Linthwaite, president and CEO of Fluidigm, in a press release. “We believe the application of Fluidigm microfluidics technologies to epigenetic testing for COVID-19 has significant potential to increase the speed and capacity of these critical screening efforts.
“Fluidigm is committed to supporting the efforts of the consortium and others in addressing the rapidly evolving global COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that partnering with other developers and labs seeking Emergency Use Authorization for tests utilizing our unique IFC technology has the potential to add significant testing capacity. Quick and reliable detection is crucial to combat this rapidly advancing pandemic.”
Microfluidics technology generates more data and uses a fraction of expensive testing reagents per precious sample as compared with more traditional, microwell plate-based PCR technology. Fluidigm Biomark HD and microfluidics technology, in particular, enable the automated assembly of PCRs at the nanoscale level in a massively parallel manner.
“We appreciate the unique expertise Fluidigm brings to this multi-institution, DARPA-supported effort to develop an early test for COVID-19,” said Professor Stuart C. Sealfon, M.D., principal investigator of the DARPA ECHO program and director of the Center for Advanced Research on Diagnostic Assays and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Neurology at the Icahn Sinai School of Medicine.