Dr. Rimantas Slibinskas, the head of UAB Baltymas, last summer said that in an optimistic scenario, the Lithuanian COVID-19 antibody detection test can be expected at the end of the year. The latest news from this biotechnology company and their partners – UAB Imunodiagnostica confirms that the prognosis was correct – the first Lithuanian diagnostic kit of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 has already reached the market.
The success of the project was due to a large team of experts and timely funding. As part of the “Life-saving innovations: stop COVID-19” competition launched by the Science, Innovation and Technology Agency (MITA), UAB Baltymas signed a financing agreement under the EU investment measure Inostartas and attracted scientists and researchers needed for the project.
According to the head of MITA, Gintas Kimtys, the excellent results are the best assessment of the agency’s initiative ‘Life-saving innovations: stop COVID-19’. This initiative was one of the effective measures to the onset of the pandemic. In addition to attracting considerable attention from innovators and the media, it was also evaluated by the Public Sector Innovation Observatory of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A total of 12 start-ups were established during the contest and 35 prototypes of anti-COVID solutions will be developed.
According to Rimantas Slibinskas, the project also received important support from other sources: Lithuanian Ministry of Finance Foundation, chaired by President Dalia Grybauskaite, the fund established by the academic Prof. A. Janulaitis family supported the purchase of necessary equipment. Organization of Laisvės TV helped to acquire expensive reagents for a particularly important part of the project. The support of both MITA and joint efforts have been made to develop the first diagnostic medical measure manufactured and approved in Lithuania for identifying specific antibodies against the virus causing human disease.
According to Dr Rimantas Slibinskas, the main antigens of the virus now provide an opportunity to develop tests to detect the immunity from COVID-19.
Raw material prepared by UAB “Baltymas”, i.e. purified recombinant coronavirus surface “Spike” protein. This protein is used by UAB “Imunodiagnostica”, to develop a serodiagnostic kit.
“Vilnius University professor Aurelija Žvirblienė and her colleagues strongly contributed to the development of the kit. Their advice and expertise have been particularly valuable in working out optimal reaction conditions,” says Gintautas Gylys, head company ‘Imunodiagnostica’.
He also highlights three advantages of the new diagnostic kit: precision, versatility and price. Competitors use only a protein fragment, while Lithuanians use the whole purified SPIKE protein, which makes the test particularly sensitive. A comparison with the antigens of several world-recognized manufacturers, confirmed that Lithuanian-developed virus antigens recognize 1.5-3 times more antibodies than other proteins produced to date. Thus, due to the sensitivity of the test, the results are obtained are more accurate.
The tests used by competitors are for “closed” systems and can only be tested by laboratories with specialised automated systems. Meanwhile, the new diagnostic test can be used both with automated equipment and a simple ELISA plate reader. A set based on ELISA (immunoenzyme reaction) may be tested simultaneously for 1 to 90 samples. In addition, it is significantly cheaper than the product of competitors.
The Lithuanian COVID-19 antibody tests immediately attracted a lot of interest. Mr Gylys points out that these are not self-inflicted high-speed tests, so only the laboratories carrying out the tests can buy them. For companies interested in testing employees, UAB Imunodiagnostica will provide a full service from sample collection to their investigation. A licence has already been obtained for this purpose from the State Agency for Accreditation for Health Care Activities.
By the way, the company is already involved in public procurement. The winner of the competition will be announced by Santara Clinics in the near future.