KGP’s indigenously developed COVID testing kit — COVIRAP

In a proud moment for IIT Kharagpur, the novel technology for the rapid and ultra-low-cost diagnosis of COVID-19, developed by a team of researchers in IIT Kharagpur led by Prof. Suman Chakraborty (Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department) and Dr Arindam Mondal (Assistant Professor, School of Bio Science) has been approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) NICED. In the press conference held by IIT Kharagpur on 21st October 2020, many details of this novel technology were given.

The machine, given the name ‘COVIRAP’, was first announced in July and was filed for the patient thereafter. The novelty of this technology majorly lies in the very method of diagnosis which is radically different from the most broadly used method in the world today, also considered to be the benchmark of accuracy called RT-PCR (Real-Time PCR).

RT-PCR practiced for over years now in virology requires expensive equipment, rigorously trained clinical microbiologists, controlled lab environment, expensive non-reusable inputs for each test and typically takes hours.

On the contrary, COVIRAP has several advantages over RT-PCR:

  1. It can be handled by any lab technician who has a basic idea of microbiology.
  2. The required lab conditions are simulated in the machine itself! Hence, testing could be done anywhere, even in the outdoors or in any low-end TB testing lab.
  3. The machine and test kits are of extremely low cost to manufacture relative to RT-PCR. The machine costs merely ₹5000 (which is lakhs of rupees for RT-PCR) to buy and set-up (although when produced on a commercial scale, the price may reduce significantly) and the cost of each test is estimated to be between ₹500-₹600 (₹1500-₹5000 for RT-PCR), which could be further reduced by government subsidy.
  4. The machine gives the result within an hour. IIT Kharagpur has also developed a mobile application which can scan the paper strips and perform image processing based analysis to give the result, thereby reducing human error.

All these points make COVIRAP very suitable for large scale production and use, especially in rural areas where there is no proper laboratory infrastructure or trained medical personnel.

COVIRAP was under inspection in ICMR NICED and it was found to have 93% Sensitivity (108/115 true positives) and 98% Specificity (89/85 true negatives) for samples of CT (Cycle Threshold) values 35–36 or below relative to the labelled samples generated by RT-PCR. When the CT values were lowered (30 or below) the Sensitivity and Specificity both increased to 98%! The lack in finding true positives was majorly from samples having a very low viral infection (which PCR or thermocycling based techniques can tackle since it, in layman terms, exponentially increases the viral content in the sample).

Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Hon’ble Minister of Education, Government of India, said, “I am glad the researchers from IIT Kharagpur have achieved the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat through this medical technology innovation.” He congratulated the institute for this “path-breaking innovation”.

The Director of IIT Kharagpur, Prof. V.K. Tiwari, in the press conference, emphasised the dedication of the researchers behind COVIRAP. He said that the work had started way back in April. He also said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and the researchers involved in it were ready for the challenge.

The director of ICMR NICED, Dr Shanta Dutta, appreciating the technology said that it is very user-friendly. She also said that she wishes each kit is used in every lab on a national level. She approved of its commercialization and wide-scale use in India and also expressed hope for some improvement for better performance.

In the press conference addressing the launch of kit, Prof. Suman Chakraborty cleared the air over the novelty of COVIRAP by emphasizing that while many institutions have introduced miniaturized testing kits, fundamentally they all use RT-PCR at the core (like the one developed by IIT Delhi), while COVIRAP uses a radically different technique developed in conjunction of BioScience and Microfluidics. This is what makes COVIRAP unique. He also said that the roadmap further is to commercialize COVIRAP and they are already in talks with many big companies and start-ups as well.

This product is a continuation in the string of extremely affordable, commercially scalable and radically different medical technologies invented in IIT Kharagpur through interdisciplinary research of microfluidics, bioscience, electronics, AI etc., be it an ultra-low-cost blood test kit, painless microneedle syringe, IoT-AI based device for monitoring breathing problems, organic electronics based wearable diagnostic devices and now the revolutionary COVIRAP.

Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur congratulates the team of professors, research scholars, postgraduates and undergraduates for achieving this feat. We hope that COVIRAP gets widely-used soon and our researchers from different domains will keep coming together to build such products whenever needed in future.

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