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Analytical sensitivity of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests: A case for a robust reference standard


  • Toft, Casey J.
  • Bourquin, Rebecca A.
  • Sorenson, Alanna E.
  • Horwood, Paul F.
  • Druce, Julian D.
  • Schaeffer, Patrick M.


Talanta Open, Volume 7, 2023-08-31

Article Link: Click here

Aggressive diagnostic testing remains an indispensable strategy for health and aged care facilities to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in vulnerable populations. The preferred diagnostic platform has shifted towards COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs) to identify the most infectious individuals. As such, RATs are being manufactured faster than at any other time in our history yet lack the relevant quantitative analytics required to inform on absolute analytical sensitivity enabling manufacturers to maintain high batch-to-batch reproducibility, and end-users to accurately compare brands for decision making. Here, we describe a novel reference standard to measure and compare the analytical sensitivity of RATs using a recombinant GFP-tagged nucleocapsid protein (NP-GFP). Importantly, we show that the GFP tag does not interfere with NP detection and provides several advantages affording streamlined protein expression and purification in high yields as well as faster, cheaper and more sensitive quality control measures for post-production assessment of protein solubility and stability. Ten commercial COVID-19 RATs were evaluated and ranked using NP-GFP as a reference standard. Analytical sensitivity data of the selected devices as determined with NP-GFP did not correlate with those reported by the manufacturers using the median tissue culture infectious dose (TCID50) assay. Of note, TCID50 discordance has been previously reported. Taken together, our results highlight an urgent need for a reliable reference standard for evaluation and benchmarking of the analytical sensitivity of RAT devices. NP-GFP is a promising candidate as a reference standard that will ensure that RAT performance is accurately communicated to healthcare providers and the public.