July 13, 2020 – Medicover Genetics, Illumina, a global leader in genomics, and Healthmetrix, a Berlin digital-health start-up initiated a partnership to develop an integrated, anonymous, large-scale Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 screening solution using NGS technology. If successful, it would complement PCR testing in building and scaling up the testing capacity for COVID-19 as continuous testing remains essential until a therapeutical solution for the virus is identified.
On July 4-5, MVZ Martinsried, Medicover Genetics’ central laboratory site in Germany, carried out the pilot test of large-scale genome sequencing (NGS). As part of the pilot program, 1,560 volunteers were anonymously tested free of charge for COVID-19, in the area of Neuried and surrounding villages next to Munich. The initiative aims to compare the power of Next-Generation-Sequencing, which enables the analysis of thousands of DNA sequences in parallel in a single run, with conventional PCR-testing, the current gold standard for SARS-COV-2 diagnostics. This technology, if it can be successfully applied in routine workflows, could be used to drastically increase testing capacity in the future.
Stefan Mehrle, Head of Medicover Genetics, talks about the importance of the project: Medicover Genetics has been making considerable efforts to provide ample testing capacity to detect and contain COVID-19 outbreaks ever since the beginning of the pandemic. By using the expert knowledge in genetic testing combined with expertise in clinical virology and transfusion medicine at our central laboratory site in Martinsried, Medicover Genetics is aiming to expand its testing capacities even further. Using Next-Generation-Sequencing based SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics, we will be able to provide higher capacities at a more affordable price than it would be possible using conventional PCR. Combining this capacity with a streamlined digital workflow developed together with leading industry partners alongside of expanding the diagnostic testing solution, Medicover Genetics will be able to provide vastly increased testing capacities anywhere in Europe.
1,560 asymptomatic volunteers were enrolled in the pilot program and the samples were processed in the facilities of MVZ Martinsried, using NGS reagents and equipment provided free of charge by Illumina. Theresults were returned within 48 hours via LabRes®, a smartphone app created by Healthmetrix. The ambition is to establish a fully integrated workflow enabling anonymous testing from swab to result capable of processing large volumes simultaneously at affordable costs with an efficient reporting system.
Hanns-Georg Klein, Site-Head at MVZ Martinsried reported: Not only were we able to successfully establish the technology in our laboratory and bring it to life in a matter of weeks, we also were able to report out all results in a smooth and timely manner to all volunteers within the expected timeframe. I am also proud to say that the team around Kaimo Hirv (Head of Lab Operations) and Oliver Wachter (Core Facility Lead) could clearly identify the four previously PCR-confirmed positive samples that were spiked into the sequencing run, proving that the technology is working under real-life conditions. The team on-site will now analyse the results of the experiment in more details and will improve the workflows and technology in order to make it fit for real world usage should the need arise.
Hasso-Plattner-Institute in Potsdam near Berlin has also been involved and performed testing of students at their site to support the evaluation of the solution.
During the pilot study, antibody testing from blood samples was carried out to identify infections that occurred several weeks prior and further encourage the participation of citizens. MVZ Martinsried has performed these tests free of charge using reagents supplied my Mikrogen, another cooperation partner in the project. These results have also been successfully reported back to the participants through the LabRes® app by now.
Decentralizing laboratory testing and increasing the capacity to process million samples per week by using NGS technology, paired with a highly scalable citizen-centric approach based on smartphones, plays a critical role in finding a rapid solution to detect, manage and prevent COVID-19 transmission. Large scale screening is expected to support a safe return to work, school or the community, based on the early identification of outbreaks and containment.
About MVZ Martinsried
MVZ Martinsried is a spin-off from the Institute of Clinical Chemistry at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, in 1998. The company sees its core competence as integrated in vitro diagnostics through the analysis of body fluids and tissues. The common denominators are the newest technology and latest findings from genome research. Initially, the focus was on building up a high-performance, innovative human genetic referral laboratory. The range of services was gradually expanded to include the fields of immunogenetics, clinical chemistry, molecular pathology, microbiology and virology; at the same time, genetic counselling centers were set up and a consultation service established. The unique characteristic of the company is the interdisciplinary, integrated diagnostic competence for physicians and patients (www.medizinische-genetik.de).
Since Jan 2019, MVZ Martinsried is part of Medicover - a leading international Healthcare and Diagnostic Services company founded in 1995 (www.medicover.com).