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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.

The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) will create a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings. The £1.3 million research programme will bring 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 the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, and Deputy Director of the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative, said:

‘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.’

Jointly led by the University of Oxford and the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the programme will put the many tests developed by the life sciences industry to either detect current coronavirus infection or to find out if someone has previously been infected through their paces in hospital, general practice, and care home environments.

Professor Hayward continues:

‘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.’

The research will assess multiple diagnostic tests at once at sites across the country and can be adapted to add in new tests as they become available, and this study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care, to expedite its delivery in the health and care system.

At present, 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.

Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, adds:

‘The life sciences industry has responded quickly to the need for tests to diagnose COVID-19, producing novel diagnostics and technologies alongside laboratory evidence of their accuracy.’

‘The CONDOR national programme of research funded by NIHR and UKRI will provide critical evidence to help us understand how well these diagnostic tests work in the real-life context of the health and social care system, so we can base our response to the pandemic on an accurate understanding of the levels of infection and immunity across the country.’

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Innovation at Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, said: “We are delighted to be able to support this national research programme in the search to find fast and reliable diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Reducing viral outbreaks through effective testing could help to protect the millions of people in the UK with a lung condition who are more likely to experience severe symptoms.

“It has been incredible to see such a fast response to the coronavirus from the life sciences industry and we look forward to seeing the results of this study.”

Find out more: www.condor-platform.org

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Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not of Oxford University. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

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