'Feluda' coronavirus test: A game-changer in India's fight against COVID-19?

Shalini Ojha
·3-min read

20 Nov 2020: 'Feluda' coronavirus test: A game-changer in India's fight against COVID-19?

Feluda, the world's first coronavirus test based on gene-editing technology CRISPR, will be rolled out in Delhi in the first week of December, multiple reports said. Following Delhi, the kits will be available in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, and Ahmedabad.

Initially, the tests will be made available at Apollo Hospitals, which signed a partnership with Tata Group on Thursday.

Here's more.

Breakthrough: What makes the Feluda test kit unique?

The Feluda kit gives results in under one hour; some reports pegged the time to just 45 minutes.

For the test, RNA from a collected swab sample is extracted and amplified. A paper strip, already barcoded with the Cas9 protein of the CRISPR system, is used to test the sample.

The CRISPR system can identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus's genetic material.

Results: Two blue lines mean the person is coronavirus positive

To note, the kit displays strips to ascertain if the sample belongs to a coronavirus-infected person, much like how a home-based pregnancy test works.

If two blue lines are reflected, it implies the person is coronavirus positive; only one blue line means otherwise.

The kits, developed by Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), have "96% sensitivity and 98% specificity."

Cost: It doesn't cost much either

The Feluda kits would be available for just Rs. 500, said some reports, implying that it is much cheaper than gold-standard RT-PCR tests. Additionally, it is more efficient than the other alternative - Rapid Antigen Tests.

"Unlike RT-PCR which requires expensive machines, Feluda is simple and can be used in laboratories as well as outside with a quicker turnaround time," explained virologist Upasana Ray.

Fact: Satyajit Ray's created detective was also named Feluda

Though Feluda stands for FNCAS9 Editor-Limited Uniform Detection Assay, it is also the name of the iconic detective created by director Satyajit Ray. The character was immortalized by actor Soumitra Chatterjee, who passed away on November 15, leaving an inexplicable void in the entertainment world.

Partnership: Apollo and Tata group signed a partnership yesterday

Notably, on Thursday, Apollo Group entered into a partnership with Tata Group's new healthcare venture — Tata Medical and Diagnostics (Tata MD).

With this partnership, the kits have been commercially named TataMD Check.

"The addition of TataMD check as part of the testing arsenal will be a boost to the ongoing efforts," said Dr. Sangita Reddy, a high-ranking official at Apollo Hospitals.

Statement: These kits are a testing solution: Tata MD's CEO

Girish Krishnamurthy, CEO of Tata MD, called the kits a testing solution.

It is reported that the kits will deploy an AI-based mobile app to click the test strip's photograph and give near-perfect results.

"Initially, the samples will be read both manually and with the AI technology just to be doubly sure. Eventually, the process can be completely automated," said Apollo's Chandrashekhar.

Fact: "India's young scientists have risen to the occasion"

CSIR's Director-General Shekar C Mande said, "It's a proud moment for India. It reflects true spirit of our young scientists who have risen to the occasion and provided us an indigenous test which we foresee as a global product."