New Covid antibody tests developed by Czech scientists likely to make testing faster and cheaper

A new kind of lab test could make the detection of coronavirus antibodies faster and cheaper, according to scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences who are behind its development. A license agreement for its industrial production has already been signed and the test is expected to hit the market later in September. There are also hopes that it could help determine who is in need of a third vaccine dose.

After a seven-month-long research effort, scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Institutes of Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry have developed a new coronavirus antibody test that could cut the current week-long testing period to just around four hours.

The new testing method was developed in the laboratory of Dr Cyril Bařinka from the Czech Academy of Sciences Institute of Biotechnology. He says that main problem with current tests is that they can only measure the aggregate signal of all antibodies capable of recognising the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ spike protein. The benefit of the new test is that it only focuses on those antibodies capable of destroying the virus.

“Our test focuses on detecting only a subset of antibodies in the human plasma - let’s call them ‘elite antibodies’ - that neutralise the virus. That means that they block the binding of the virus to the whole cell.

“With our assay, you can basically measure up to 96 samples at one time and the measurement time should be less than three hours in the laboratory.“

Cyril Bařinka | Photo: Czech Academy of Sciences

The team says that this will not only make testing faster, but also significantly cheaper than the current price for an antibody test which costs between 800 to 1,000 crowns.

The research institutes involved in the project have already signed a license agreement with Immunotech, a Czech company that belongs to the multi-billion US biomedical testing corporation Beckman Coulter. This should enable the production of the new test on an industrial scale. According to Dr Bařinka, the tests are currently in the process of being registered with the European Union and will start selling on the market sometime in September.

Biochemist Pavel Šácha, who also took part in the project, told Czech Television that the test is simple, safe and can be conducted in almost any lab. However, Dr Bařinka stresses that the new method of antibody testing is not for domestic use.

“Unfortunately, it is not for general use, because it is also a quantitative test as well. It will tell you exactly how many of these protective antibodies you have in your system and for that you need special equipment.”

Thanks to its ability to identify the amount of effective antibodies, Bařinka believes that the test could also help specify which people are in need of a third, so-called “booster shot”, vaccine and which are not.

“That is an ongoing debate in the scientific community. I strongly believe so, but there is not much data out there yet. We will have to wait around half a year for these studies to become more thorough and clear. However, I would say yes.”