New tech to detect COVID mutations being trialled by UK Gov

The UK Government is trialling new technology to help ‘rapidly detect’ COVID mutations and shorten the time between identification and tracing.

Taking place in NHS Test and Trace laboratories, the technology – called ‘genotype assay testing’ – could help with:

  • Identifying mutations
  • Rapid turnaround times to help trace contacts of positive cases
  • Suppressing variants of concern.

According to the government, the tech could ‘halve the time it currently takes’ to identify if a positive sample containing a variant of concern. And it’s expected it could be used in addition to standard testing to help pinpoint cases quickly, which would have positive implications on tracing infected people and their contacts, breaking the chain of transmission and stopping spread.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, said: “Innovation is at the heart of our fight against COVID-19 and has a key part to play in controlling the spread of the virus. We must not stand still if we are to beat COVID-19 and safely ease restrictions in the coming months.

“That is why our goal is to eventually test every COVID positive sample for mutations, that indicate known variants, using this ground breaking new technology. This type of testing will help us rapidly identify variant cases and trace contacts quicker than ever before, helping stop outbreaks in their tracks and ensuring we can continue to follow the roadmap we haves set out to get back to normal life.”

Health Minister Lord Bethell added: “The progress made so far developing these new genotype assays is very encouraging and I am confident we will see positive outcomes from piloting this technology.”

The genotype assays would be used to complement existing genomic sequencing surveillance work that looks for variants and mutations in COVID-positive samples.