After Faulty Kits From China, India Develops Antibody Test. Will This Help in Lifting the Lockdown?


After Faulty Kits From China, India Develops Antibody Test. Will This Help in Lifting the Lockdown?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

As countries around the world look for a strategic exit plan from the coronavirus lockdown to save their economies, experts have stated that mass antibody testing will play a critical play. But what exactly is an antibody test and how does it help?

An antibody test can detect if the person has had coronavirus before and has recovered since then. Experts say mass antibody testing is essential for a successful exit plan from the lockdown. Dr T Jacob John, a former Professor of Virology at the Christian Medical College, Vellore explained, “People with IgG antibodies, found in the blood and lymph fluid, whether or not they had suffered Covid-19, are immune, and they can safely return to normal activities. They will not get infected, and cannot transmit infection to others.”

Struggling to scale up testing domestically, India had procured five lakh rapid antibody testing kits from two Chinese firms in mid-April. However, the Indian Council of Medical Research was forced to recall the testing kits due to a meager five per cent accuracy rate. Kits were withdrawn, orders were cancelled and states where these kits had been dispatched were asked to halt with rapid antibody testing.

But as Lockdown 3.0 nearing its end date – May 18 – India has finally had a major breakthrough on the issue, with the Centre approving the indigenous IgG Elisa test “Covid Kavach Elisa” for antibody detection. The National Institute of Virology in Pune has developed the test and according to sources, the test was validated at two sites in Mumbai and was “found to have high sensitivity and specificity”. While the real-time RT-PCR is the frontline test for clinical diagnosis, robust antibody tests are critical for surveillance.

The Drug Controller General has granted commercial production and marketing permission to Zydus Cadila, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tweeted. The test kit has the advantage of testing 90 samples together in a single run of 2.5 hours so that healthcare professionals can proceed quickly with necessary next steps, he added. He also pointed out that ELISA-based testing is possible even at the district level and the test will play a critical role in surveillance of proportion of population exposed to SARSCoV2 infection.

The diagnostic kits will be manufactured through a technology transfer at the company’s facility in Moraiya, Ahmedabad. As India looks forward to lifting the lockdown in phases, the mass antibody test will have a big role to play. It could very well aid us in having a smoother landing in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as we slowly and steadily open parts of our economy.