Crucially, the test can be used safely by health professionals on patients with, or showing symptoms of, COVID-19.

Pioneering spin-out company’s test identifies fungal lung disease in COVID-19 patients

A revolutionary point-of-care test developed by experts from a University of Exeter spin-out company has been used to safely diagnose a lethal fungal lung disease during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The ground-breaking company, ISCA Diagnostics, has created a simple, affordable and rapid test to detect pulmonary aspergillosis.

A frequently fatal lung disease, which usually attacks immune deficient individuals such as cancer patients and bone marrow transplant recipients, it has also recently emerged as a super-infection of Coronavirus patients in Intensive Care Units known as COVID-19-Associated Pulmonary Aspergillosis (CAPA).

Crucially, the test can be used safely by health professionals on patients with, or showing symptoms of, COVID-19.

Currently, testing involves collecting a respiratory sample by bronchoscopy. However, this method can generate aerosolised droplets - one of the main ways in which COVID-19 and similar infections can be passed from one individual to another.

This new test, known as AspLFD (Aspergillus lateral-flow device) uses a small patient sample that is applied to a strip, containing ISCA’s patent pending Aspergillus-specific monoclonal antibody, JF5.

Similar to a pregnancy test, the appearance of control and test lines on the device is able to give a clear and rapid result.

The innovative spin-out was founded by Professor Christopher Thornton, an expert in Fungal Immunology at the University of Exeter.

Professor Thornton said: “It’s really pleasing to see our test helping to diagnose this devastating lung disease in already sick ICU patients. Diagnosis of CAPA is extremely difficult, but its early and accurate detection is critical to patient survival. The speed and accuracy of our test means that COVID-19 patients can be given prompt treatment with antifungal drugs.

The new flagship test by ISCA Diagnostics (ISCA Diagnostics) works by detecting an Aspergillus cell wall antigen, a signature molecule of active lung infection.  In two recent studies, the AspLFD test has been used successfully to identify CAPA in COVID-19 patients being treated in ICU.

The AspLFD test is available to purchase from the UK diagnostics company OLM Diagnostics. An accompanying ELISA test for laboratory confirmation of disease is also available from the German/US diagnostics company EUROIMMUN, and uses the same JF5 antibody licensed to both companies by ISCA.

Dr Neil Hayes, University of Exeter’s Assistant Director Innovation, Impact and Business said "Prof Thornton’s research is making an important contribution to the global effort to combat respiratory infections.  ISCA Diagnostics Ltd. is an excellent example of how the University of Exeter translates its research expertise in microbes and disease into real world solutions that improve healthcare around the World.

A rapid point-of-care test that allows urine-based detection of pulmonary aspergillosis  is now on the horizon.

ISCA Diagnostics has received funding from Innovate UK to develop a lateral-flow device for detection of a novel protein biomarker of Aspergillus fumigatus lung infections in the urine of sick patients.

A prototype test has already been developed, with testing of urine samples from patients with respiratory diseases due to commence shortly.  The test will allow the diagnosis of this devastating fungal lung disease without the need for invasive and potentially infectious lung samples. 

Date: 17 July 2020

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