Rapid, low-cost diagnostics and deployable surge capacity for COVID-19

March 24, 2020
IDRC/CRDI

The outbreak of COVID-19 highlights the importance of a rapid response to infectious diseases in a highly interconnected world. Innovative diagnostic technologies are key tools in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 because they allow frontline responders to quickly triage patients, especially in fragile healthcare systems. 

Low-cost tools for rapid diagnosis

Over the past five years, the project team has developed low-cost paper-based diagnostics that are simple to use and easy to distribute. During the Zika virus outbreak they developed diagnostics within weeks and have since completed patient trials in Latin America. 

These diagnostics and their companion technologies and protocols, in addition to training to ensure their effective deployment, can help manage outbreaks. However, to bring the technology into the hands of users there are practical challenges to overcome, especially in vulnerable healthcare systems and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The first phase of the project will focus on developing and validating diagnostics for COVID-19. The second phase will be dedicated to developing a “lab-in-a-box” — a portable lab containing the necessary hardware (e.g. low-cost plate readers, pipettes) and software to perform 14,000 COVID-19 tests. 

Future infectious disease outbreaks are inevitable, and it is critical to develop tools to build regional and global resilience. To help sustain diagnostic capacity, the lab-in-a-box will be paired with a deployable kit that can convert a standard microbiology lab into a diagnostics fabrication lab. This deployable pandemic response package can be redefined to address any future outbreak of infectious disease. 

Expected outcomes

This project aims to create low-cost tools for the rapid diagnosis and sustained surveillance of COVID-19. The project will also build the capacity of teams in Vietnam and Brazil to design and manufacture diagnostic tests. 

The long-term goal is to decentralize capacity for innovation and, in doing so, increase global resilience against infection outbreaks and improve access to health technologies.   

Lead institutions

The project is led by the University of Toronto and involves researchers from Brazil, Canada, the USA, and Vietnam. 

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Budget: CA$1.5 million