It has been just three weeks since a brand new strain of coronavirus—2019-nCoV—was discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan. But the novel virus which has spread rapidly over the past two weeks, causing respiratory illness, has become a growing concern for global health organizations. During the outbreak, the virus has sickened more than 500 patients and killed an estimated 17. The people that have died have, in general, had underlying medical conditions.
China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus on January 20, and the United States announced the first infection in this country on January 21, detected in a traveler returning from Wuhan. There is a quarantine in place in the city of Wuhan, grounding planes, preventing buses and trains from coming into or leaving the city, and halting all public transportation.
Co-Diagnostics, a molecular diagnostics company with a unique, patented platform for the development of molecular diagnostic tests, recently announced that it has completed principle design work for a PCR screening test for 2019-nCoV, intended to address the potential need for detection of the virus which could prove useful in the current outbreak in China.
“There are several challenges to developing a test for a virus so relatively new on the world stage, especially one with many closely-related genetic cousins such as SARS and MERS,” noted Dwight Egan, CEO of Co-Diagnostics.
The new test features the company’s patented CoPrimer technology. The company claims that their platform and the proprietary structure of CoPrimer molecules “dramatically enhances the output of molecular diagnostic tests conducted via real-time polymerase chain reaction tests.” They noted that it achieves this by creating reactions that are far more specific than competing PCR technologies and 2.5 million times more effective in reducing amplification errors.
“One of the most important advantages of our CoPrimer platform,” explained Egan, “is its ability to reliably and accurately differentiate between similar genetic sequences, in order to reduce the likelihood of a false-positive diagnosis.” With a situation currently unfolding where at least 17 deaths have already been reported among the hundreds infected, Egan added, it is vital that healthcare professionals have access to the highest-quality diagnostic tools available, to be able to provide prompt and accurate diagnoses. “If the WHO takes the step of declaring the illness a global health emergency following collection of more data in the days and weeks to come, Co-Diagnostics will be well-positioned to quickly assist in providing these state-of-the-art tools to affected countries.”
Common human coronaviruses—including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1—typically cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. And, according to the CDC, a coronavirus infection is not uncommon for many people.
Typically, the symptoms include runny nose, headache, dry cough, sore throat, and fever. However, more severe cases can result in more serious lower-respiratory tract infections such as viral pneumonia or bronchitis.
In 2003, the coronavirus SARS was at the center of a severe outbreak that affected thousands of people around the world and had a death rate of about 10%—resulting in nearly 800 deaths. MERS is another coronavirus known to cause severe illness, mostly in Saudi Arabia, which causes about 3 or 4 deaths out of every 10 patients reported with MERS. MERS cases continue to occur, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. No human cases of SARS have been reported anywhere in the world since 2004.