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New £1.3 million national research programme to evaluate coronavirus tests in hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes

24 Jun 2020

Testing for coronavirus infection could become quicker, more convenient and more accurate, following the launch of a multicentre national programme of research that will evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in hospitals, general practices and care homes.

Determining who has been infected with the novel coronavirus is a key part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting quick and accurate test results when people show symptoms ensures that they receive appropriate care and reduces the chance of the disease being passed on.

The main test currently used to detect coronavirus infection (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction [RT-PCR]) often involves sending samples away to laboratories, which can take up to 72 hours to provide results.

The life sciences industry has rapidly responded to the pandemic by developing brand new diagnostic tests both to detect current coronavirus infection and to find out if someone has previously been infected. These new tests - some of which may be able to provide near immediate results at the bedside in hospitals, in GP surgeries or during home visits - have the potential to increase the speed and convenience of testing.

However, many of these new diagnostic tests have yet to be thoroughly evaluated in the settings where they're likely to be used.

The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) - funded by the National Institute for Health Research, UK Research and Innovation, and Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation - will create a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings. This programme of research brings together experts who are highly experienced in evaluating diagnostic tests and generating the robust evidence required for a test to be used in the NHS.

Co-primary investigator Professor Gail Hayward, Associate Professor at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative, said: “While a new diagnostic test might work well in a lab under controlled conditions, there are many different factors that could make it less accurate when you take that test out of the lab and into the real world. These include the range of ways that COVID-19 can present itself, from non-symptomatic carriers to post-symptomatic people who have recovered, the range of other illnesses people might have and the challenges of performing tests in a busy clinical environment.

“Right now there’s a critical gap in how we road-test new diagnostics for COVID-19. By robustly evaluating these diagnostics in health and care settings, the CONDOR programme will help the government and clinicians to understand the real-world accuracy of these tests in patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms in the NHS.”

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, which helped to fund the study, said: “The life sciences industry is developing faster and more accurate SARS-CoV-2 tests, but we need to know if they work as well in the difficulties of real-world settings as they do in a controlled lab environment.

“The CONDOR platform will put the new tests through their paces. The best ones can then be chosen for deployment in healthcare settings, care homes and the community, boosting our ability to detect and control the virus that causes COVID-19.”

View the full article on the UKRI website.

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