FDA Approves Emergency Use of Saliva Test to Detect COVID-19

Doug Brunk

April 15, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's  Coronavirus Resource Center.

As the race to develop rapid testing for COVID-19 expands, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency approval for an approach that uses saliva as the primary test biomaterial.

According to a document provided to the FDA, the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory TaqPath SARS-CoV-2 Assay is intended for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2 in oropharyngeal (throat) swab, nasopharyngeal swab, anterior nasal swab, mid-turbinate nasal swab from individuals suspected of COVID-19 by their health care clinicians.

To expand on this assay, Rutgers University-based RUCDR Infinite Biologics developed a saliva collection method in partnership with Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs.

The document states that collection of saliva specimens is limited to patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and should be performed in a health care setting under the supervision of a trained health care clinician. Samples are transported for RNA extraction and are tested within 48 hours of collection. In saliva samples obtained from 60 patients evaluated by the researchers, all were in agreement with the presence of COVID-19.

"If shown to be as accurate as nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal samples, saliva as a biomatrix offers the advantage of not generating aerosols or creating as many respiratory droplets during specimen procurement, therefore decreasing the risk of transmission to the health care worker doing the testing," said Matthew P. Cheng, MDCM, of the division of infectious diseases at McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, who was not involved in development of the test but who has written about diagnostic testing for the virus.

"Also, it may be easy enough for patients to do saliva self-collection at home. However, it is important to note that SARS-CoV-2 tests on saliva have not yet undergone the more rigorous evaluation of full FDA authorization, and saliva is not a preferred specimen type of the FDA nor the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for respiratory virus testing."

In a prepared statementAndrew I. Brooks, PhD, chief operating officer at RUCDR Infinite Biologics, said the saliva collection method enables clinicians to preserve personal protective equipment for use in patient care instead of testing. "We can significantly increase the number of people tested each and every day as self-collection of saliva is quicker and more scalable than swab collections," he said. "All of this combined will have a tremendous impact on testing in New Jersey and across the United States."

The tests are currently available to the RWJBarnabas Health network, based in West Orange, N.J., which has partnered with Rutgers University.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com.

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