Diagnostic Test Simplifies Flu Pandemic Preparation
Credit: Doug Jordan, M.A, USCDCP
InDevR Inc., a Boulder-based analytical technology and life science company, today announced plans to launch a Research Use Only (RUO) version of their FluChip-8G technology to aid in pandemic preparedness. The new molecular test addresses an unmet need for more detailed information about flu viruses found in human specimens without the data management complexities associated with current sequencing approaches. FluChip-8G offers viral subtype specific insight with the ease of use of an RT-PCR assay and unmatched simplicity in results interpretation.
In addition to ushering in a severe flu season, 2018 marks the centennial of the so-called "Spanish flu," a virus that ravaged the human population in 1918. As chronicled in John M. Barry's book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, the flu virus of 1918 changed the way we think about influenza and public health. Policy makers realized that investment in the science of medicine was necessary to prepare for the inevitable emergence of new pathogens, including new strains of influenza. Thanks to their foresight we now have front-line defense by dedicated scientists and physicians in the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Service, and branches of the military. In addition, many governments invest in new products that empower public health scientists with state-of-the-art technologies to identify and combat new biological threats.
FluChip-8G is one such technology. It leverages advancements in artificial intelligence to distill complex data into a simple answer to identify flu viruses. The technology is based on a microarray that quickly probes a large portion of influenza's viral genome. Human experts who have the required skill to curate and interpret such a massive amount of data from each sample are hard to come by, especially in remote locations where new flu viruses with pandemic potential are likely to originate. To tackle that problem, the developers of FluChip-8G built an "expert" into every box. Similar to the way social media sites are able to identify individual faces in a photograph, the FluChip-8G system uses a pattern recognition algorithm to rapidly identify flu viruses. This allows those tracking flu viruses in a variety of settings including low and middle income countries to rapidly determine if a flu virus with pandemic potential is causing infections or outbreaks.
According to Dr. Nancy Cox, the former Director of the CDC's Influenza Division and the WHO Collaborating Center for Influenza in Atlanta, "By eliminating the need to analyze large amounts of complex data generated by whole genome sequencing, the FluChip-8G technology fulfills the need for immediate answers in surveillance labs distributed throughout the world that have fewer human resources."
This reaction was echoed by Dr. Rangarajan Sampath, the Chief Scientific Officer at FIND "The FluChip-8G technology seems very promising for filling a critical niche in global influenza surveillance. The current approaches for identifying non-seasonal viruses are inadequate and/or time consuming."
In anticipation of a 2018 launch of the RUO product, InDevR is actively engaging with potential partners throughout the world. InDevR hopes to place the nimble FluChip-8G system in critical sites in Southeast Asia and Africa to serve as an early warning system. "This cutting-edge test can be deployed in locations where humans are known to contract zoonotic flu viruses. FluChip-8G's ability to more efficiently distinguish between typical and atypical flu viruses will improve our ability to prepare for new lethal viruses by alerting public health authorities to the potential threat earlier," said Dr. Kathy Rowlen, InDevR's CEO.