Israel starts trying out virus test that delivers results in 15 minutes

Top health officials observe potential game-changing Sofia test, and will know in coming days if it can be put to wider use as labs are inundated with samples

Health officials observe a pilot program for a testing method that returns COVID-19 results in 15 minutes, in Lod on July 15, 2020 (Courtesy)
Health officials observe a pilot program for a testing method that returns COVID-19 results in 15 minutes, in Lod on July 15, 2020 (Courtesy)

Israel has started trialing a COVID-19 test that claims to provide results in just 15 minutes.

A pilot program at a Lod coronavirus testing center has asked those seeking a virus test to submit to the current method, as well as the US Food and Drug Administration-approved Sofia 2 test, the Health Ministry said Wednesday.

Israel is currently holding back on the widespread use of the 15-minute test over concerns over its accuracy, citing the expedited FDA approval. But if researchers analyzing the data confirm its accuracy, it could be a game-changer.

In the coming days, the researchers will be able to determine whether the test method is reliable enough to be rolled out for general use, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

The Sofia 2 test was developed by Quidel Corp. — an American firm based in San Diego.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch traveled to the COVID-19 testing station in Lod to observe the pilot program.

Speaking on site, Edelstein said Israel had the capacity to surpass 30,000 tests per day.

“As the winter approaches, we must significantly increase the number of tests and reduce the time required for results. This will help us break the chain of infection. The Health Ministry is working tirelessly to acquire the latest technologies that will help us fight the coronavirus. Today’s pilot is just one example of these efforts.”

Health officials observe a pilot program for a testing method that returns COVID-19 results in 15 minutes, in Lod on July 15, 2020 (Courtesy)

“The great advantage of this testing system is that it can be implemented in the field, can provide 40 tests per hour and can certainly be suitable for nursing homes and other sensitive places,” added Kisch.

The pilot program’s progress came amid reports that labs across the country have become overwhelmed by testing expectations.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Health Ministry instructed Israel’s HMOs to stop conducting coronavirus tests on those who are not displaying any symptoms of the virus, with some exceptions.

Those living with someone who was diagnosed with the disease and workers who engage with high-risk populations, such as in nursing homes, can still be tested, even if they have no symptoms.

The Health Ministry order also gives some leeway — up to 5,000 daily tests — to medical professionals to test asymptomatic populations at their discretion.

Earlier this month, the Israeli company AID Genomics announced that it had developed a half-hour coronavirus test kit, and predicted it will become a globally available screening solution.

AID Genomics chief scientist Izhak Haviv said his company has changed the enzymes and other components normally used in test kits in order to enable small batches of “VIP” tests to be processed in 30 minutes, and bigger batches in around double the time.

There are various attempts around the world to reduce times for processing tests, and the current low is believed to be 90 minutes. Such tests, however, are generally seen as a premium product, mostly reserved for hospitals given their high cost. Haviv said his testing will be significantly cheaper than existing express services.

The new kit has been sent for approval to regulators, including the FDA, said Haviv.

Nathan Jeffay contributed to this report. 

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