Antibody tests to assess immunity to COVID-19 are key to managing and reducing the general confinement that is gripping people and economies worldwide. Medical diagnostic companies and governments are looking for sensitive and specific tests. It is key for medical personnel, to know who is safe to work with as staff shortages due to COVID-19 are straining already scarce resources.
Testing for antibodies is paramount to:
- Inform policymakers on asymptomatic case rates so they can decide whether schools can be opened and people can return to work.
- Verify that experimental vaccines are immunogenic.
- Trace contacts after a suspected infection.
Serology tests are challenging and time-consuming to produce because they require knowledge of the viral coating proteins that trigger the immune response and the antibodies that flag or neutralise the virus. The viral spike proteins are the obvious candidates as they are very specific. Of these, the nucleocapsid protein is the most abundant and easy to detect. The uniqueness of the selected sections of this protein is critical to avoid false positives with other coronaviruses (SARS, common cold).
In Europe, the German company Euroimmun has already been given approval to sell their test within the EU.