U.K. launches new national COVID-19 test validation project

The U.K. government is launching a national research program, in collaboration with a number of universities, National Health Service (NHS) trusts and medical research groups, to evaluate the accuracy of new coronavirus diagnostic tests and how well they perform in different settings.

The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform, or CONDOR, will be funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), U.K. Research and Innovation, Asthma U.K. and the British Lung Foundation.

“Right now, there’s a critical gap in how we road-test new diagnostics for COVID-19,” said the project’s co-primary investigator, Gail Hayward, an associate professor at the University of Oxford and deputy director of the NIHR’s Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative.

“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,” Hayward added. “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.”

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The program will be led by the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford in collaboration with four NIHR Medtech and IVD Co-operatives as well as the University of Nottingham and the National Measurement Laboratory. It will also collaborate with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to assess individual tests’ benefits.

“For example, we’re going to look at tests that use different approaches to collecting samples other than the nose and throat swabs, which are uncomfortable,” said Richard Body, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Manchester. “Some tests in development at the moment measure the virus in saliva, which is much easier and more convenient to collect.” 

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The program aims to serve as a single national route for evaluating the accuracy of new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings as well as determining which could be the most valuable to the NHS. 

“The CONDOR platform will put the new tests through their paces,” said Fiona Watt, executive chair of U.K. Research and Innovation’s Medical Research Council. “The best ones can then be chosen for deployment in healthcare settings, care homes and the community, boosting our ability to detect and control the virus that causes COVID-19.”

This includes gauging their effectiveness in emergency departments, critical and acute medical care, and primary care settings as well as at care homes and hospital-at-home teams. CONDOR will also follow patients with a positive antibody test result to see whether they develop new infections.