November 4th, 2020
Innovations That Matter – Episode 12
As designers, we’re intensely curious about innovations of all kinds, and even more so when human ingenuity is borne out of sudden change. We decided to lend our expertise in highlighting and evaluating promising innovations borne out of the COVID-19 crisis. In this series, we’ll be using 3 different categories to rate these exciting ideas. First will be innovation, or how new or disruptive the idea is. Next, we’ll look at feasibility to check how realistic the idea actually is in practice. Finally, will be scalability, to see how capable an idea is to reach a wide audience.
In this episode of Innovations That Matter, we review:
1. Abbott Laboratories Releases New Antigen Test [Link]
2. LabCorp Unveils Pixel At Home Test [Link]
3. Yale Creates New Saliva Based COVID Test [Link]
Watch Episode 11 here.
Find more COVID-19 insights here.
Hello everyone, this is Chris Cureton, Creative Director at BOLTGROUP returning for another episode of Innovations That Matter, where we explore, analyze, and rank some of the great ideas that are emerging in response to COVID-19. We all know that adequate testing is one of the cornerstones in our collective strategy to overcome the virus. But we also know that this simple idea brings with it, numerous complicated caveats. Supply chain issues, speed, availability and varying levels of accuracy all still present barriers to giving us the information we need to act in the best interest of public health. With that in mind, for this episode, we’ve picked a few interesting takes on improving testing for everyone.
But first, let’s cover a few basics on testing right off.
Broadly speaking, there are 3 types of tests that can be applied in the fight against COVID-19. PCR, or polymerase chain reaction testing is the method many are familiar with, requiring a nasal swab that is sent away for lab work. PCR tests are also known as molecular tests because they are designed to detect the genetic material of the virus itself. PCRs historically have been the most accurate diagnostic method we have so far. Antibody tests, also known as serology tests work in a completely different way. This method requires a blood sample and cannot be used to identify a current infection, but rather, if an infection had occurred in the past. This test looks for antibodies rather than genetic material which can affect accuracy, but can still be useful in determining if a person had ever contracted COVID-19 before. For asymptomatic cases, this can be a useful piece of information. Antigen tests represent the third type of test. Like the PCR method, these tests utilize a nasal or throat swab and also are used in identifying a current, active infection. Antigen tests look for the specific proteins that exist on the surface of the virus and thus can be less accurate than PCR molecular tests. That said, antigen tests do offer some unique benefits specifically related to speed and cost.
With those speed and cost benefits in mind, Abbott Laboratories has recently introduced a new type of antigen test that could prove very useful. Their Binax Now product is a simple card like device that contains everything needed to test on site. By chemically operating in a similar manner to an at home pregnancy test, these cards require no outside lab involvement for processing. This means that the test itself can cost as little as five dollars per unit and can provide results in fifteen minutes. Even cooler, the test pairs with a free phone app that can act as a temporary digital passport that could be used by schools or employers. On innovation, we’re giving the Binax Now card a 4 out of 5. While there still are some general limitations with antigen testing, a product like this would definitely seem to have its place in helping to make widespread repeated testing viable. Being able to test without lab infrastructure is a big win. A product like this could have excellent impact in areas where labs are not available, empowering healthcare workers to gain testing ability in places where they otherwise wouldn’t. On feasibility, we’re giving this product a 3 out of 5 out of an abundance of caution. Like many others pushing hard to get new solutions to the public, Abbott Labs has had accuracy issues in the past, most notably with their ID Now machine that debuted in the earlier days of the pandemic in March. We’re hoping that the challenges faced from that device provided valuable lessons when creating this one. So far, the published accuracy numbers look promising, but like many other methods that have received emergency authorization from the FDA, more peer reviewed data will be a key factor in determining how effective this test will ultimately be. Finally on scalability, our design team is giving great marks at 5 out of 5. The sleek card form factor, low cost and lack of dependence on a lab for processing make this a great option for widespread, distributed use. By removing many of the typical barriers that are holding back test throughput, this solution could be a great start in helping us expand testing where it is needed most.
For folks in the US requiring medical testing of various kinds, LabCorp may be a name you recognize. In a typical scenario, LabCorp partners with major medical providers to process medical samples collected at the doctor’s office. However, in more recent days, LabCorp has been expanding its offerings with a growing catalog of direct to consumer tests. This service, called Pixel, has seen a new influx of interest with the introduction of an at home test for COVID-19. The test itself, is based upon the typical nasal swab method for collection, but in this case, is self-administered. The service begins online with a simple eligibility survey and payment portal. Once completed, everything needed to self-test at home is delivered by mail. Once the sample is collected, the kit is then shipped back out for processing with results delivered online in a few days. All in all, what the service promises is compelling. For innovation, this service received a score of 3 out 5. Being able to find out if you’ve contracted the Coronavirus, all while staying at home is a nice prospect and seems to be a natural addition to the existing lineup of Pixel tests. Skipping a visit to the doctor or a long drive through line has some clear appeals but another exciting benefit lies in helping those who may have been exposed, remain isolated with ease. On feasibility, we’re also giving a score of 3 out 5. While the previously stated benefits are straightforward, putting test fidelity in the hands of the untrained individual could introduce a new set of risks. A test can only be as accurate as its protocol and self-administration may not only be challenging in a practical sense, but could also introduce unwanted variability if the user does not follow all of LabCorp’s instructions to the letter. At the end of the day, this is a process design project at its best. Finally on scalability, we’re giving a strong score with 4 out of 5. Diversifying the channels through which patients can be tested is an important step towards sustainable testing throughput in general. The possibility of using this at home method as a way to help alleviate strain on in person services is really exciting. If more and more people opt for this mode of testing, both lines and wait time could get shorter, which is a definite win.
Anyone who’s received a diagnostic nasopharyngeal PCR test can tell you, it can be a bit of an unpleasant experience. It’s safe to say, no one likes a long swab up their nose. Beyond this, a patient’s reaction can also introduce additional risk to healthcare workers if they, cough, sneeze, or reflexively pull away. Furthermore, these same factors can also affect the ability for the test to be conducted with fidelity. Knowing this, a team of researchers at Yale’s School of Public Health have been actively testing a new method of well, testing. The new process, called Saliva Direct is exciting in a number of ways. First, as the name implies, it uses saliva collected from the mouth as opposed to needing access at the back of the nasal cavity. That’s a big win already, but other added benefits are even better, with the test likely being faster, cheaper and easier to produce. This is in large part to its reliance or more readily available testing reagents and the fact that it only requires a simple vial, rather than a specialized swab. This means that processing the samples is easy, which equates to fast and the use of cheaper reagents means that tests could be conducted for a little as ten dollars. While final conclusions about efficacy are still being assessed, results so far are promising, showing that the test is comparable in accuracy to the existing PCR molecular swab tests. On innovation, this emerging test method get s a 5 out of 5 score from us. By focusing on improving the process itself, the Yale researchers have hopefully come upon a superior testing method for expanded use. Commendably, they’re publishing their method as an open source protocol, which opens the door for not only additional innovation, but allows their work to be verified and validated. On feasibility, we’re also giving a score of 5 out of 5. The NBA, quite notably, has been an active participant with a pilot program testing their athletes regularly. This partnership makes sense. The NBA, by providing funding to the project increases its reach immediately and reaps the benefits as well. This new method has given a way for their athletes to return to the court and may in time help others to the same. Lastly on scalability, another 5 out of 5 ranting is warranted. Simple collection methods paired with low cost, easily acquired supplies make this method an ideal candidate to scale easily if accuracy continues to prove trustworthy. If the data collected continues to show promise, there would be few barriers for this test to be deployed at scale.
That’s it for now. Keep your eye out for our next video where we’ll share another 3 cool innovations you need to know about. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.