Molecular diagnostics developer Seegene has launched a campaign to offer routine syndromic PCR testing for COVID-19, influenza A and B, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in select settings in European and Asian markets. The campaign, called In-Life PCR, was launched “preemptively” to curb transmission surges of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses driven by relaxing public health precautions and increasing travel, the company said.
Eased social distancing restrictions and waning vaccine and acquired immunity have raised concerns of a COVID-19 resurgence alongside an influx of seasonal flu and colds. More than 594 million confirmed cases and approximately 6.4 million deaths have been reported globally as of mid-August.
According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic continues to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and reduced testing and sequencing have made it difficult to assess the impact of variants on transmission, disease characteristics, and the effectiveness of countermeasures. Some governments have changed their testing policies and stopped providing free PCR tests, which can identify asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases and are one of the most effective ways to monitor and decrease the spread of the virus. By comparison, rapid antigen tests can only detect positive cases when there is a significant viral load.
Now, Seegene has joined hands with LabHouse, a testing center in Vietnam, to launch the In-Life PCR campaign for ride-hailing drivers in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, and the company is in talks with testing labs in countries around the world to launch the campaign in more regions, targeting venues that require face-to-face interactions, including schools, workplaces, or nursing homes. Under the partnership in Vietnam, Seegene will provide assays and PCR instruments, while LabHouse will collect clinical samples, perform the PCR tests, and provide the test results.
“With infection rates remaining high, it is now more important than ever to make PCR testing routine by increasing accessibility and affordability,” said Jong-Yoon Chun, CEO of Seegene. The In-Life PCR campaign is intended to support bi-weekly testing of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, flu, and colds, “to help people safely return to normalcy and prevent future pandemics,” he said.
Chun, who has been at the forefront of the pandemic since the earliest days, tracking and responding to new surges and variants, noted that priorities have recently shifted from halting the virus’s spread to returning to everyday life, something that routine PCR testing can assist with.
“To curb transmission early, it is crucial to test those with mild or no symptoms. Infected individuals will then be able to isolate themselves and keep their communities safe,” Chun said.
To help achieve this, the company offers the Allplex SARS-CoV-2/FluA/FluB/RSV Assay in key European and Asian markets (available for research use only (RUO) in the US and not for use in diagnostic procedures). This PCR-based assay can simultaneously detect six targets associated with COVID-19, flu A and B, and RSV.
While the WHO recommends screening at least two targets, Seegene identifies three for added detection accuracy. The test includes distinct COVID-19 genes (S, RdRp, N) to identify positive cases even as new variants emerge. It also includes two internal controls for proper sampling and testing validation.
The syndromic test also enables the monitoring of potential co-infections when individuals contract multiple viruses simultaneously. When one or more viruses are identified proactively, individuals can intervene earlier with targeted treatments.
Increasing Affordability and Accessibility of PCR Tests
PCR testing isn’t always available to the public, as costs remain high, and resources are often limited to larger hospitals equipped with the relevant PCR infrastructure.
Seegene is working to address such drawbacks by collaborating with testing labs worldwide to lower the cost of testing. The company can offer competitive prices thanks to its high-multiplex technologies.
To boost accessibility, Seegene has also introduced a fully automated PCR system, STARlet-AIOS, that provides hands-free PCR workflows, from nucleic acid extraction to result analysis (product not available in the US). The “sample in, result out” system can be used by those with minimal PCR experience as the automated process reduces the potential of human error and contamination. This solution is designed to integrate seamlessly with the workflows established in small clinics and public health centers to make PCR testing more widely available.
STARlet-AIOS is compatible with over 30 syndromic assays to detect various illnesses, including COVID-19, human papillomavirus, sexually transmitted infections, gastrointestinal infections, and drug-resistant organisms. The AIOS-applicable assays have received the CE-IVD mark, while they are available in the US as RUO. The STARlet-AIOS system can also accommodate future assays developed in response to changing healthcare needs.
Seegene is also working with testing centers to have technicians visit community facilities for clinical sample collection. Individuals can use an app to make appointments at a time and location of preference, and the same app will deliver their results.
Changing Healthcare Dynamics
Along with the surveillance of other respiratory pathogens, the WHO acknowledges the need to expedite the integration of COVID-19 monitoring into routine systems.
As the transmission of infectious diseases has no borders, countries must continuously take preemptive actions against any unexpected situations to minimize damages and costs associated with another lockdown.
“We should no longer think that testing is only for those displaying symptoms,” said Chun. “It is critical to monitor and readily detect novel pathogens, and the most effective way to prevent the next COVID-19 surge will be to make PCR tests routine.”