DNA aptamers for COVID-19 rapid tests: interview with Steven Goh, CEO of Achiko and Dr. Michael Edel, inventor of AptameX


Achiko, a Swiss-based company, has developed AptameX, a rapid test of COVID-19 based on saliva. The technology is based on DNA aptamers that are attached to gold nanoparticles. Upon binding to a viral protein, gold nanoparticles are released, causing a measurable color change. The test lasts approximately 15 minutes in total, with the user only spending five minutes washing their mouth and then providing a saliva sample.

PCR testing is the current gold standard for COVID-19, but it is not always practical to undergo such testing, and it is complex, time consuming, and costly to perform the PCR procedure hundreds of millions of times. These problems have created a niche for rapid testing techniques, such as antigen testing. Achiko reports that the AptameX test is more sensitive than the antigen test and cheaper and faster than the PCR test.

The test is combined with an app that allows users to receive their results and pay for the test, as well as provide proof of the status of their COVID-19 test.

Watch a video of the test process below, which has been produced for the Indonesian market, where AptameX is manufactured and has received emergency approval:

Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Steven Goh, CEO and CEO of Achiko and Dr. Michael Edel, inventor of AptameX.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the importance of rapid testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Goh, Achiko: In our minds, it is becoming increasingly clear that vaccination alone may not win the battle against Covid-19. It requires a combination of testing, therapeutics, and physical measurements.

Rapid testing is a useful tool as part of a proactive approach to managing the pandemic when used in conjunction with vaccines, masks, and social distancing (as needed). And unlike a PCR test, the quick test format is cheaper and more convenient. Communities or countries with frequent mass trials can quickly identify positive cases that know how to isolate themselves at home and protect others. This approach limits the impact on economies, avoids confinements, and allows people to retain freedom within a new normalcy.

However, there are design issues with the current quick tests. Antigen approaches have a sensitivity limit and from what we understand of how Covid-19 is spreading, most may not be sensitive enough. Leave healthcare professionals facing a less practical and expensive PCR test or an insensitive quick test that can miss most infections.

Medgadget: Do you think non-invasive testing methods will increase the absorption of evidence?

Steven Goh: With the right combination of price and performance, we believe that quick tests can become as universal as temperature review or toothbrushing. We believe the current tests are not there yet, which is why we are excited about AptameX.

Medgadget: How does the AptameX test work? How long does it take to get the test results?

Michael Edel, Achiko: Instead of an antigen, AptameX uses DNA aptamers in a colorimetric assay format.

DNA aptamers are conjugated to gold nanoparticles. By binding between the saliva sample S1 virus protein and the aptamer, gold nanoparticles are released. When gold nanoparticles are released, they aggregate causing a color change in the solution.

A UV-visible spectrophotometer is used to detect the color change and the software developed to analyze the color change designates positive or negative results in less than 15 minutes.

Over time, the company is exploring other formats for other use cases and is looking forward to announcing them as they come out.

Medgadget: What are the advantages of this test technology compared to other test methods? How does it compare to PCR testing?

Michael Edel: PCR tests are the current gold standard. And published works (p Eurovigilance), cites a CT cut of about 32, much higher than where many rapid tests are able to detect a signal.

Therefore, there are three areas to compare:

  • For sensitivity, testing in a 96-well plate format has yielded encouraging numbers of sensitivity, materially larger than antigen-based formats, and the company is currently bringing it to market in a convenient, low-cost cuvette format.
  • A PCR test on your sensitivity can detect a positive well after the maximum period of infection and when a patient is removing the dead virus. While AptameX is based on a recent sample of fresh, standardized saliva, that in a practical setting is to look for those that are currently infectious.
  • Price and performance. The use of DNA aptamers once again allows for an even lower cost test. The advantages in chemistry for stability, specificity and cost of production mean that the mass market can have access to a cheaper and more sensitive rapid test than others on the market.

Medgadget: Describes the procedure for someone taking the test.

Michael Edel: It is a simple process in which a patient goes to a health or medical center to give a saliva sample. First, the patient washes with a mouthwash, then washes with water and then spits into a saliva collection cup.

The medical staff takes the collection glass and attaches a QR code to the collection tube. The staff then instructs the patient to pay for the test by scanning the QR code from the collection tube using the Teman Sehat User app. Once the payment has been made, the healthcare staff delivers the sample to the laboratory for analysis.

After processing, the test result will appear in the Teman Sehat user app in less than 15 minutes.

The process of taking a saliva sample for analysis in a laboratory using the AptameX test kit can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/APTXINA.

Medgadget: How do you think the test will be used? Would this technology be suitable for routine testing to monitor someone’s COVID status or as a precaution before major events?

Steven Goh: We believe that testing has many practical applications. From mass public tests to tests in high value jobs, large public events, health facilities, transportation, tourism and recreation and many more.

Given the price / performance of the test, those who receive a positive test result would know how to take the appropriate measures ranging from isolation to therapeutic, additional testing or any other measure.

Link: Achiko Home Page …

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