Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi’s recently developed low-cost method to detect COVID-19.

The new method is a real-time polymerase chain reaction-based diagnostic that significantly reduces the cost of testing, making it affordable for a large population in the country, officials said on Thursday.

The institute said it was now targeting large-scale deployment of kits at affordable prices with suitable industrial partners ‘as soon as possible’.

The Coronavirus detection method had been validated at ICMR with a sensitivity and specificity of 100%, making IIT-D the first academic institute to have obtained ICMR approval for a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnostic assay.

“Using comparative sequence analysis, we have identified unique regions in COVID-19. These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19,” said Professor Vivekanandan Perumal, lead member of the team.

“Primer sets, targeting unique regions in the spike protein of COVID-19, were designed and tested using real-time polymerase chain reaction. The primers designed by the group specifically bind to regions conserved in over 200 fully sequenced COVID-19 genomes. The sensitivity of this in-house assay is comparable to that of commercially available kits,” he added.

The research team includes PhD scholars Prashant Pradhan, Ashutosh Pandey and Praveen Tripathi, postdoctoral fellows Drs Parul Gupta and Akhilesh Mishra and professors Vivekanandan Perumal, Manoj B Menon, James Gomes and Bishwajit Kundu.

This development is significant as the ICMR has halted the testing for COVID-19 cases through China-made test kits because of massive variation in test results, compounding the challenge to check and contain the pandemic.

The total number of positive coronavirus cases in India climbed to 21,393, while the fatalities due to the virus are reported to be 681 on Thursday, according to the Union Health Ministry.

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