India’s Drugs Controller General (DCGI) has approved an accurate and low-cost paper-based test strip named Feluda kit which can identify COVID-19 in less than 30 minutes.
The kit is co-developed by scientists at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology) and the research team at Tata Group.
FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay (FELUDA) uses indigenously developed CRISPR gene-editing technology to identify and target the genetic material of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Feluda kit is also the world’s first diagnostic method to successfully detect SARS-CoV2 by deploying a specially modified Cas9 protein. The CAS12 and CAS13 proteins are used by other CRISPR tests to detect SARS-CoV2.
According to the CSIR, the test matches the levels of precision of RT-PCR tests, considered the norm standard for COVID-19 testing and have shorter processing time along with lesser costs.
CSIR stated that “The Tata CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) test, powered by CSIR-IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology) FELUDA, has met high-quality benchmarks, with 96 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity for detecting novel coronavirus”.
The newly developed Feluda test is similar to a pregnancy test strip and changes color if the virus is detected. This low-cost COVID test can also be used in pathological laboratory also.
Dr. Debojyoti Chakraborty senior scientist at IGIB said, “The Cas9 protein is barcoded to communicate with the SARS-CoV2 sequence in the patient’s genetic material. The Cas9-SARS-CoV2 complex is put on the paper strip, and by using two lines (one control, one test) it becomes possible to determine if the test sample was infected with Covid-19 or not”.
Cost of Feluda kit and comparison
The ‘Feluda’ test costs approximately $6.81 (₹500), while the RT-PCR test now costs about $21.79 (₹1,600) and $27.24 (₹2,000) anywhere. Antibody tests which can give results in 20-30 minutes cost between $6.81 (500) to $8.17 (600). At the same time, a quick antigen test kit that interprets a positive or negative test in 30 minutes costs $6.13 (₹450) and the TruNat test provides results in 60 minutes, costs approximately $17.71 (₹1,300).
In March, there were only RT-PCR research centers to diagnose diseases. Later on, ICMR approved cartridge-based tests, such as TrueNat, CBNAAT, Abbott and Roche. In June, the rapid antigen kits were approved for testing.